Mad Men Season 7, Episode 4—The Monolith


By John Andrew Fraser

Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey hit theaters on April 2, 1968—about a year before this episode of Mad Men takes place. In that film, monkeys gathered around a mysterious black slab as they learned to use bones as tools. That same black slab reappears in one of the movie’s final scenes as an elderly Dr. David Bowman reaches out to touch it while he is on what appears to be his death bed. That monolith was infinite, just like the one Lloyd, the Lease Tech guy, describes to Don.

Like 2001, ‘The Monolith’ is full of little nuggets concerning man’s past, present, and what exists beyond. When Lloyd asks Don for a light he muses, “the perils of technology; man can’t make fire.” Ginsberg’s angry because SC&P’s new computer is presently pushing the agency’s creatives to the side. Meanwhile, Roger and his daughter gaze up at the moon, and she wonders if we’ll ever put a man up there.

While the episode’s title is obviously referring to the large, upright slab that is the agency’s new computer, it’s also a reference to the large and increasingly impersonal corporate structure that has taken over at SC&P this season—of which the computer is really just the latest symptom. Volatile creative geniuses, like Don Draper, have been replaced by adequate, yet boring, middle managers like Lou Avery—not only at SC&P but all over corporate America. After watching ‘The Monolith’ it’s hard not to think that everyone at the agency is really just a cog in the machine. After a certain amount of time, they’ll all end up in the dump right next to a pile of out-dated IBM models.

It didn’t take long for Don to break the rules at work. To be fair, Jim Cutler and the other partners seem like they’re trying their best to make him fail. Don is the kind of employee who doesn’t receive agency-wide memos, he’s basically left to play solitaire in his office by himself all day, and when he is finally given an account, he’s forced to work under his former-protege who currently hates him. When he goes to Bert Cooper with the idea to present to Lease Tech while their in the office installing the computer, Bert basically tells Don that he’s about as valuable to SC&P as Lane Pryce’s rotting corpse. That’s the last straw—Don’s pouring out the coke and downing the vodka.

Perhaps the one partner who could have actually helped Don through his rough couple days at work was out of the office dealing with his own problems for most of this episode. The apple sure doesn’t fall far from the tree in the Sterling family. While Mona was rightfully turned-off by her daughter’s commune lifestyle, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised (given the commune-like atmosphere in his own hotel room) that Roger decided to stick around and smoke some weed with Margaret and her cult friends. After awhile, I almost felt like Roger was just going to stay on the commune and leave the ad world behind (would anyone at SC&P, besides Don, really even miss him at this point?). But after he sees Margaret sneak off with some hippy in the middle of the night, his paternal instincts kick in, and he tells her that she needs to be at home with her son. But Margaret’s just like her dad. He was never there for her when she was a child, so why does she need to be there for her kids? Roger suggesting otherwise just makes him a hypocrite. Who’s to say that if Roger Sterling hadn’t been born thirty-years later that he wouldn’t be living on a commune in upstate New York too? Where do Roger and his mud-stained suit go from here?—maybe to beat up some rednecks in a bar?—I’m guessing that the answer isn’t going to be good.

Despite all his stupid decisions, on some subconscious level, maybe Don knew he wanted to save himself from officially getting fired from SC&P. He calls Freddy Rumsen—maybe the only guy capable of talking some sense into him. Freddy’s hit rock bottom. He’s the ultimate cautionary tale from advertising’s golden age and he can see that Don’s halfway down the same path. He delivers a harsh but necessary message to Don, “start from the bottom, because that’s really all you can do at this point,” and the episode ends with Don promising Peggy his twenty-five tag lines by lunchtime. I think that there’s something to the fact that Don promises the tags, rather than I actually delivering them.

As we’ve learned from Mad Men and its predecessor, The Sopranos, real change is often difficult and painful to achieve. Don Draper spent a lot of this episode back-sliding, but things seemed to end with him preparing to get back on the right track. But how long until someone finds that empty bottle of vodka in his office? How long until there are more empty liquor bottles in Don’s trash? How long until Lloyd tells someone about his strange encounter with boozy-Don? How long until Don’s replacement is no longer Lou Avery, but HAL 3000?

Mad Men Season 7, Episode 3—Field Trip


By John Andrew Fraser

It’s almost always frustrating when reality fails to match up with our hopes, dreams, and the images we construct for ourselves in our minds. I bet Don felt like Megan would be happy to see him when he surprised her in California. I bet he visualized his return to SC&P as some kind of triumphant event where he’d come riding in on a white horse and drop-kick Lou Avery out a thirtieth-story window. It seems pretty clear that at least a part of Betty Draper dreams of becoming the perfect mother. Unfortunately, in ‘Field Trip,’ none of these things work out the way these two characters had planned. In fact, they don’t work out at all.

Megan is happy to see Don at first, but things quickly turn sour when she finds out that he’s really in Los Angeles to check up on her per her agent’s request. She expects the worst from Don when he’s back in New York by himself. He’s always away from the phone when she calls the office. When he calls back it’s always quiet—her guess is that he’s probably off cheating on her while consuming copious amounts of Canadian Club whiskey somewhere in a midtown Manhattan hotel. Megan’s about a season too late with the accusations of adultery, but somehow when the truth comes out about why Don’s never around his office phone it’s even more painful. The fact that Don had been lying to her about his work situation for months, the fact that he clearly doesn’t want to move to L.A. to be with her, makes her reevaluate everything. Last week, honesty led Don to the smallest ray of light. This week, it threw him back into the darkness. Maybe this is where it ends for Don and Megan.

Meanwhile, something sparks inside Betty while she’s having lunch with her old Ossining friend, Francine. While both used to be housewives, Francine’s now working as a travel agent, a job she calls a “reward.” Betty responds by claiming that her place is at home with her kids. Apparently, she really sells herself on this idea, because as soon as she gets home she volunteers to go on a school field trip with Bobby’s class to an upstate New York farm.

Everything about the trip feels weird. Betty’s sitting on the bus talking with her son about the Wolfman and Dracula. Bobby’s teacher isn’t wearing a bra. The class gets off at the farm, and Betty volunteers to drink cow’s milk straight from a pail. What?! Betty’s actually being a pretty good mom for once, until she lashes out at Bobby during lunch time for trading her sandwich for some gumdrops. Betty wanted so badly to prove to herself that she really was a good mother, but in the end, the reality of it is that she just reverts to being Betty.

I give Don some credit. He could’ve used his fight with Megan as an excuse to go on a forty-eight hour bender or something, but when he gets back to New York he seems clear-headed and hungry. He’s still being courted by other agencies, and in this episode he finally gets a formal offer from one. This matches an offer he gets from a random blonde girl who claims to know him (random question: Was I the only one who thought that this girl looked exactly like Anna Draper’s niece—I believe her name was Stephanie—who we met briefly in season four? I was sure it was her when she appeared onscreen last night). I thought Don might take the bait (from both the girl and the new agency), but he really just used the offer as leverage during an impromptu meeting with Roger. Don wants to come back, and maybe it’s because he doesn’t want his BLT to get cold, but Roger tells him to return on Monday.

But on Monday Don is that kid who invited himself to the party (rather than the guy strolling in on the white horse). He’s the man in the corner who’s left alone while everyone talks

behind his back. Ginsberg and Stan might be happy to see him, but the partners are not thrilled to say the least. Jim Cutler even thought that they had fired him. Ultimately, the partners decide to bring Don back, not because they particularly like him or respect him, but because it would take too much money to buy him out (and the agency’s eyeing a new computer!) His return is based on several conditions, however: he’s not to be alone with clients, he must stick to the script in meetings, he can’t drink in the office, and he has to report to Lou. Oh yeah, and he gets to take the office where Lane hung himself. Can Don Draper really change? We’re about to find out.

From Don’s first day back, to a possible Stephanie sighting, to Betty and Bobby’s country excursion, much of ‘Field Trip’ seemed like it took place in a weird kind of off-kilter reality. Sometimes when you step away from things and later return, everything seems like its upside down. I guess it’s only fitting then that this episode closes with Jimi Hendrix’s “If 6 were 9.”

Mad Men Season 7, Episode 2—A Day’s Work


By John Andrew Fraser

Don Draper’s apartment is kind of like mine. Alright, his is way nicer, but we both have cockroaches that periodically scurry around our kitchens, and judging by the fact that he’s eating a meal that consists of Ritz crackers, I’d guess that our cooking abilities are roughly equivalent as well. Last week Don enlisted Freddy Rumsen to be his mouth while he was on leave. This week we learn that Dawn, his old secretary, is his eyes and ears at SC&P. He’s also taking lunches with other ad agencies, although they’ve heard the news—he broke down and cried in a meeting about chocolate or something like that.

Speaking of SC&P, things seem more fractured and disorganized at the office than ever. Is it possible that the sum of the agency’s parts no longer add up to a greater whole? The communications between California and New York are disjointed at best, and everybody seemed to want to fire their secretary in this episode. I noticed this last week, but I think it’s worth saying now—It really feels like all the old SCDP partners are becoming increasingly irrelevant. Obviously, Don’s out of the agency completely, and I don’t think we got one scene with Roger in the office last week. This week Jim Cutler tells Roger that he doesn’t want him to be an adversary (a.k.a. step aside old man). It’s worth asking just how long it might be until Roger and Bert Cooper are put out to pasture just like Don.

Yet, as SC&P might be beginning to burst at the seems, Joan and Dawn come out as real winners in this episode. Joan got no love last week, but finally Jim Cutler (of all people) notices that she has actually been working two jobs ever since she became a partner—she’s head of the secretaries while managing accounts. Cutler gives her a second floor office and tells her that she can pick someone new to head up the secretaries. Dawn was a perfect fit for this position and the scene where she inherits Joan’s office was one of the episode’s best. Lou Avery sucks (he can’t even buy his wife perfume when he’s supposed to), but Dawn might never have gotten that promotion if Lou didn’t blow up at her for not being at her desk when Sally unexpectedly arrived at the office. It’s funny how things work out sometimes.

While things were looking up for Joan and Dawn, Peggy still seemed to be stuck in the mud. For a second, I thought she was going to have another breakdown like the one at the end of last week’s episode when she found out that those flowers she thought were from Ted were actually for Shirley, her secretary. Nobody at SC&P really seems to be on Peggy’s side anymore, and she’s become increasingly isolated, drinking and brooding in her office during the day like she was channeling the ghost of Don Draper. So many fans thought that Peggy would be the female character on the show to finally break through the glass ceiling at the agency, but at this rate I wouldn’t be completely surprised if she ended up pursuing something else entirely as the series’ ended.

While the office politics were interesting, the real emotional core of this episode for me involved the scenes between Don and Sally. Those who thought that Don’s confession and cautious glance he shared with his daughter at the end of season six would magically mend the cracks in their relationship were wrong. Mad Men and real life don’t work that way. However, even though the two characters still have a lot healing to do, there was progress here. While Sally catches Don in another lie, when she visits the office and finds out that he no longer works there, he owns up to it and tells her that he was fired for telling the truth about his past at

a very inappropriate time. The two also speak openly about his affair with Sylvia for the first time. When Don asks Sally what he should write in a note to her school explaining why she would be late getting back, and she responds “tell the truth,” she’s talking about so much more than just the letter. At this point, it seems like Sally sees her dad for who he really is, flaws and all, and although she may be disappointed, she has gained a tentative level of acceptance. When she says “I love you” to Don at the end of the episode, it might be the most uplifting moment Mad Men has had in about two seasons.

Overall, I’d say that ‘A Day’s Work’ left me feeling a little more optimistic than last week’s ‘Time Zones.’ Still, there were a ton of death references to work with here. The reason that Sally pops into Don’s life is because she’s attending her roommate’s mother’s funeral in the city (and Don appears to be weirdly interested in the fun, eral). Pete Campbell (who seems a lot more like the old Pete Campbell in this episode), says that ever since he moved to California he feels like no one notices him. “It’s like I’ve gone to heaven, or hell, or purgatory,” he tells Ted. Ted’s response?—“You’re going to die someday. Just cash the checks.” What’s all this setting us up for? Mad Men is a pretty morbid show most of the time, so I don’t know if we can really even guess yet. But for now, it’s just good to know that on Valentine’s Day a simple and genuine “I love you,” is almost always more meaningful than the stuff that the Don Draper’s of the world try to sell us. I think even Don himself realized that on some level tonight. That’s progress, right?

What party is we goin’ to on Oscar day? ‘Specially if she can’t get that dress from Oscar de

Its Oscar Sunday. The biggest night in entertainment hands down. Sure the Globes are a little rowdier, but they still do not compare to the Academy Awards no matter what Buzzfeed or anyone else tells you.

Having just screened Nebraska and 12 Years a Slave earlier today I have seen all of the Best Picture nominees except for one. So I could give you a breakdown who I think should win or what will win blah blah blah but that sounds about as boring as Philomena looks (that’s the one I didn’t see). Also if you do want that follow me on twitter, I’ll be posting my picks. Instead I’m going to do what I usually do: talk about exactly what I want to talk about. Sound good? Good.

“Now the tuxedos seem kinda fucked up…”

Seth Rogen’s classic line from Step Brothers can be directly applied to some of the Oscar choices in recent memory. At the time they seemed fine, but as time has passed it becomes more clear that the Academy simply got it wrong. Examples? I thought you’d never ask:

Crash. 2005 Best Picture

There’s a reason why Jack Nicholson was so shocked when he read the winner for Best Picture. Crash is a fine movie albeit a bit cliched that does not hold up too well in multiple viewings. The cast and crew weren’t even expecting to win, Ryan Flippee looked happier than he ever looked when he was with Reese Witherspoon (I guess that makes sense). All of the other nominees Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Good Night and Good Luck, and Munich are more memorable and impactful films looking back. So why did the Academy go with Crash? I really can’t even think of a real reason, maybe they just hate gay cowboys.

Jennifer Lawrence. 2013 Best Actress

I talk about this one all the time. I met Jessica Chastain while working a press junket for Zero Dark Thirty and she couldn’t have been more of a genuine, down to earth and remarkably lovely person. So sure, that makes me a little bit biased. But in this case its America’s bias towards Jennifer Lawrence that swung this award. We all know she’s one of the coolest and attractive celebrities on the planet right now and that came to the general public’s attention at the perfect time. Don’t get me wrong I really like Silver Linings Playbook but there is nothing outwardly remarkable about her performance. Jessica Chastain performance carries Zero Dark Thirty, it’s as simple as that. Plenty of talented actresses could have played the Jennifer Lawrence role and the movie wouldn’t have suffered that much. I don’t think you can say the same about Zero Dark Thirty without Chastain. The worst part? It might happen again tonight. The unilateral love for Lawrence might be enough to push her past 12 Years’ Lupita Nyong’o. Back to back Oscars for her would be about as ridiculous as the idea of Steve Nash winning back to back NBA MVPs while playing in the same era as an in their primes Shaquille O’Neal and Tim Duncan. Where’s Bill Simmons at?

The King’s Speech. 2011 Best Picture

At the time I was completely on the King’s Speech over The Social Network train. However, I recently rewatched both and can’t believe I ever felt that way. The Social Network is much more of a cinematic masterpiece than it gets credit for, and I don’t think that’s a stretch at all. The King’s Speech is just another Oscar bait movie that got overrated at the right time (like Shakespeare in Love, Driving Miss Daisy or Ordinary People to name a few), its no coincidence that Harvey Weinstein was involved. The Academy was too stuffy to give a movie about TheFacebook its biggest award and so they gave it Best Original Screenplay, which I guess is some consolation.

Well that’s all I got for now. A few passing thoughts I have going into tonight:

1. I have a sneaking suspicion that Gravity will wind up being the Best Picture even though most indications point to 12 Years a Slave. Just a feeling.

2. Do you think Jonah Hill ever thought he’d be a multiple time Academy Award nominated actor when he was filming that period blood scene in Superbad? (“Fuck me, right?”) Speaking of which does Michael Cera ever wonder where his career went so wrong in comparison? Youth in Revolt maybe?

3. A Matthew McConaughey win tonight will prove once again that a great performance can make people forget about countless bad ones. Even though Stewie Griffin wouldn’t agree.

4. How great will that McConaughey acceptance speech be?

5. Seriously. It’s going to be great, let me tell you this the older you do get the more rules they’re gonna try to get you to follow. You just gotta keep livin’ man, L-I-V-I-N.


The Killing just won’t die

The Killing, the show that started AMC original programming’s downward trend, is being brought back from cancellation…again. Ryan Reynolds sums up my feelings about this perfectly. Netflix has decided to bring back the now twice cancelled show for six episodes in the hopes that it can finally connect with some sort of audience. It’s a low risk-high reward pick up for Netflix, who used the same resurrection technique to successfully bring back Arrested Development earlier this year. But, do I even have to point out the difference in quality between those two shows? I guess I just did.

Now I’m not going to say that The Killing has no chance to succeed. It was originally marketed as a modern Twin Peaks and never came close to being that type of phenomenon. However, Netflix could be the perfect platform for a show like this, a serialized long form drama that could be both easier to digest and more enjoyable through binge watching instead of as a weekly installment. Think: A homeless man’s The Wire (Like reaaaaaaally homeless). Once again it comes back to quality, is The Killing good enough for anyone to care about six more episodes?

Family Guy got cancelled twice by FOX but now anchors the network’s Sunday night lineup. Somewhere in that same span Seth MacFarlane went from writing episodes of Johnny Bravo to hosting the Oscars and dating Khaleesi. Futurama had a short lived second life on Comedy Central, but never recaptured its original success. As I mentioned earlier Netflix revived Arrested Development earlier this year with some mixed reviews, however, the shows popularity and talks of a movie and/or another season are as alive as ever. These shows all have two things in common: they’re comedies with legitimate cult followings.

Unfortunately for Netflix, The Killing is not funny (on purpose at least) and has little to no following. The six episodes will reportedly finish the series and include the original stars. However, there’s no indication that this will work out…at all. I don’t need to see the future to predict that The Killing will soon become another random choice lost in the seemingly infinite (read: too many) list of mediocre Netflix titles.

Bad, Real Bad

Its all over. Let it sink in. While it’s unclear who will miss Breaking Bad more: us as viewers or AMC as a top tier network, it’s crystal (blue meth) clear that Breaking Bad is one of the most influential shows in the history of television and not just for its content, but for its presence.

Breaking Bad was a little known show playing second fiddle to AMC’s critical powerhouse Mad Men for its first two and a half seasons or so. I mean Hal from Malcolm in the Middle playing a drug lord? Get right out of town. Cut to: Bryan Cranston winning the first of three straight Emmys for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. Combine this with consistent and positive word of mouth/social media hype, an easy way for interested viewers to catch up before the new season (borrowing Netflix from your friend who pays for it) and boom: you have a TV drama that’s a pop culture phenomenon by the time season five premieres–the likes of which we hadn’t seen since The Sopranos cut to black in 2007.

Breaking Bad was a serious underdog to become a hit when it premiered but started to gain buzz at the perfect time. Viewers wanted the constant and instant stimulation that has become so common in today’s society from television, and they got it with Netflix and other video on demand options. Binge watching is a huge part of television watching culture, and Breaking Bad is the shining example of how big a show can become because of it. The season 4 finale garnered a (large at the time) 1.9 million viewing audience. Last nights episode? 10.3 million. What?! Cut to: Vince Gilligan thanking Netflix in his Emmy acceptance speech. The difference between Breaking Bad and other great binge watching shows is that it was satisfying as a weekly installment, even after a viewer caught up with Netflix. Watching it live (or a few minutes behind) was still an event every Sunday this season, something that was becoming a thing of the past for dramas, especially ones with commercials. The Wire (widely considered the greatest TV drama of all time) was not nearly as popular until after it was off the air, when it available to be watched in binge form. No one got together with friends on Sundays to watch The Wire in the early to mid 2000s, it just wasn’t a thing to do, it wasn’t an event.

Breaking Bad’s ability to maintain viewer interest as both a binge watching show and as installment came down to its consistency. That’s the main argument Breaking Bad has in the “Greatest TV Drama of All Time” discussion, it was more consistently good than any other show in the history of the medium. Quick: What’s Breaking Bad’s worst season? Weakest episode? Couldn’t tell ya. There was no definitive point that had viewers wondering if the show was on the verge of infamously “jumping the shark.” The Wire had season 5 and The Sopranos had season 4, which both had audiences thinking “is this the same show I’ve been watching this whole time?” Whether or not its better than The Sopranos and The Wire is a debate that will be had for years to come (can we for once breathe for a second before we decide the newest great thing is automatically the best?), but it was consistently episode by episode, season by season better than both.

Breaking Bad ended its run better than most shows do (just ask a Dexter fan) it didn’t take too many chances or leave the ending ambiguous, it was straightforward, gave some needed closure and ended in a way most viewers wanted. I’m not going to say it was perfect (as some have) because it wasn’t, but it kept with its consistent nature, and that alone was enough for a series finale. It brought back scripted event television, if only for one night, in a time when no one watches stuff live anymore and made you forget that Homeland also premiered last night (Whose idea was that by the way?). And with that, we close the book on Breaking Bad and look forward to Aaron Paul continuing to be one of the most like-able celebrities on the planet.                        

AMC’s original programming in trouble?

AMC was hoping that their new Detroit based cop drama, Low Winter Sun was going to be hit. They believed in it enough to market it as the next Breaking Bad and used its acclaimed and highly rated methamphetamine drama as a lead in. They tried showing Breaking Bad’s scenes from the next episode after the start of Low Winter Sun, to force viewers to watch for a few minutes. They even gave a summary of the first two episodes hoping that giving audiences the Cliff’s Notes right before the third episode would spark interest. (Spoiler: It didn’t) You’re not fooling us AMC, we can smell your desperation from here.

Despite AMC’s efforts, in just three episodes Low Winter Sun has failed. Ratings have gone from okay to downright laughable. While this may seem like just another bump in the road for the still popular network, AMC has struggled with adding new dramas since The Walking Dead premiered in 2010.

Mad Men and Breaking Bad put AMC on the map as a respected cable network for original television drama. Those two shows are not only two of the greatest dramas of all time, but complement each other nicely, as they are successful in different ways. Mad Men won four straight Outstanding Drama Series Emmys, but has never had an actor/actress from the show win one, and has never had high ratings. Breaking Bad came on slow but has become a cultural phenomenon, has five acting Emmys (3 for Bryan Cranston, 2 for Aaron Paul) but has never won the Outstanding Drama Series (hopefully this will change next month). When the network added The Walking Dead in 2010, it instantly became their highest rated show and is now the highest rated on all of television. Suddenly AMC could do no wrong.

Sure, AMC still has three of the biggest shows in television, however, their recent string of failed dramas (three straight to be exact) is not to be ignored. Especially considering Breaking Bad and Mad Men are on their last seasons. The Killing was cancelled and brought back so AMC could save face but still no one cares or watches it is headed for another cancellation, Hell on Wheels is an okay fourth or fifth best show on a top cable network but that’s all and now Low Winter Sun looks like the biggest failure out of all of them. If their original series continue to fail to garner interest, AMC’s prowess as a quality cable network will continue to fade, until they decide to just show movies all the time again. Just kidding, but it could happen.

A World Without Tony Soprano

What would the world be like without Tony Soprano? Unfortunately we have found out with the passing of James Gandolfini yesterday at the too soon age of 51. It can not be understated that Gandolfini was one of the most (if not the most) influential actors ever in television history. Its a fact.

The Sopranos changed the way we watch television. A lot of television was seen as background noise for the casual viewer before David Chase’s series forced the viewer to watch intently to follow his broad storytelling. Would the show have been as good without Gandolfini as Tony Soprano? How could it? His portrayal of the depressed mob boss from North Jersey gave us the original character we always rooted for despite all of his indiscretions. Without the success of Gandolfini’s Tony Soprano who knows if we would have gotten Dexter Morgan, Walter White, Don Draper or Nucky Thompson (even though he was a real guy).

Gandolfini made Tony Soprano who was in most ways a monster, a relatable human being. I can’t help but smile whenever Tony starts singing a random song, because its just so real. The depth of the character is enhanced so much by Gandolfini’s work, who also made us feel bad for an asshole with everything he could want. Tony Soprano at his core was just another guy from Jersey, trying to figure out his problems and live his life, just like Gandolfini himself. The difference being Gandolfini’s humble, calm and sometimes even shy nature compared to Tony’s violent and larger than life persona. He never chased fame, he was a man who just loved his craft.

I will never forget one time I saw Gandolfini in person, a section away from me at a Rutgers Football Game (his alma mater). Everyone noticed him as soon as he walked in, popcorn and soda in hand, his son trailing behind him. He was a hero to all of us yet could not have acted more normal, smiling and waving at all the “Jimmy!” calls before sitting in his seat. He could have probably sat in nicer seats, but that wasn’t who he was.

James Gandolfini made us care about Tony Soprano like we never cared about a television character before. We became a part of his family. Losing him is like losing a part of our family, and I truly cannot recall ever being this saddened by the death of someone I never knew, which speaks once again to his incredible relatability. I feel like I knew him personally because of all that we went through over the course of The Sopranos, his performance is that powerful and helped ushered in an entirely new era of cinema quality television. Unfortunately we will have to get used to a world without James Gandolfini…somehow, but will always remember him for his influential portrayal of one of the greatest characters of all time.

Netflix has too many options


Talk about a first world problem. Netfilx has been a powerhouse in the Video On Demand world for some time, as they have forever changed the way we watch movies and television. I mean think about it, in the near future (if it hasn’t happened already) kids will not even know what “Blockbuster Video” is. Instead, thanks to Netflix there is an endless amount of entertainment at our fingertips for just $7.99 a month. However, Netflix growth has also come with a major issue: there are simply too many options on it.

Let me give you a scenario I constantly fall into with Netflix nowadays:

You’re hanging out with some of your friends; you decide to watch something on Netflix, and the dialogue goes something like this.

Okay, awesome we have so much to pick from. Why don’t we watch something from the Instant Queue? Nah, we can watch those anytime, lets check the New Releases! I don’t know if I want to commit to a full movie, lets watch a TV show. How about a documentary? This one looks good, how about this? I don’t know doesn’t really interest me, let’s watch something funny.

Suddenly you realize it’s been twenty minutes and you’re no closer to finding something to watch then you were when you sat down. It is maddening. This can happen when you’re alone too, particularly when going to bed. You are probably going to pass out as soon as you put something on anyway, but still there is the urge to pick something that you really want to watch. There are all of these options, but there’s very few that really jump out and say “watch me!” It’s a problem of excess; too many choices are being thrown in our faces at once and quality options are sometimes overlooked in the abyss of Netflix titles.

The Netflix collection grows bigger everyday, as this issue is not going anywhere. Competitor HBOGo might not have the depth in movies that Netflix has, but their concise selection is generally higher quality with titles being added and subtracted a few times a month. Netflix changed the way society watches movies, but might need some changes of its own, if it wants to continue to be top dog in the expansive Video On Demand environment.

The Academy spreads Oscar wealth

Last night marked the eight-fifth year of the Academy Awards, with Ben Affleck’s Argo taking home the Oscar for Best Picture. The ceremony had its first tie (Best Sound Editing for Skyfall and Zero Dark Thirty) since 1994, and just the sixth tie in Oscar history. The tie was just one of the many Oscar history rarities included in last night’s ceremony.

Argo was the presumed favorite for Best Picture after overtaking Lincoln in the last few weeks before the show, and it won. However, besides Best Picture, Argo only captured two other awards, for Original Screenplay and Editing. While that’s nothing to slouch at, it is interesting how much the Academy spread the Oscars around this year. Check out this year’s breakdown:

Life of Pi: 4 (director, cinematography, visual effects, original score)
Argo: 3 (picture, editing, original screenplay)
Les Miserables: 3 (supporting actress, make-up and hairstyling, sound mixing)
Lincoln: 2 (actor, production design)
Django Unchained: 2 (original screenplay, supporting actor)
Amour: 1 (foreign language)
Silver Linings Playbook: 1 (actress)
Zero Dark Thirty: 1 (sound editing)
Beasts of the Southern Wild- 0

Since the Academy changed its Best Picture format from five nominees to ten in 2009, there have been one or two films that take the majority of the awards and four films (all three years) who have gotten shut out with zero awards. Here’s a breakdown of those years:

*Best Picture Winner

*Hurt Locker: 9
Avatar: 3
Precious: 2
Up: 2
Inglourious Basterds: 1
The Blind Side: 1
Up in the Air: 0
District 9: 0
An Education: 0
A Serious Man: 0

*King’s Speech: 4
Inception: 4
Social Network: 3
The Fighter: 2
Toy Story 3: 2
Black Swan: 1
True Grit: 0
127 Hours: 0
The Kids Are All Right: 0
Winter’s Bone: 0

*The Artist: 5
Hugo: 5
The Descendants: 1
The Help: 1
Midnight in Paris: 1
Moneyball: 0
War Horse: 0
The Tree of Life: 0
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close: 0

Although Argo won Best Picture, it failed to win the most Oscars of the night as Life of Pi won four awards. This has not happened since 2004, when The Aviator won five awards and Best Picture winner Million Dollar Baby only won four. Argo also became just the second Best Picture winner since 1977 to win only three total Oscars, joining 2005’s Crash. Both Crash and Argo failed to win any acting Academy Awards. The similarities do not end there. The last time that the Best Director and Best Picture awards were not given to the same film was also in 2005. You might be asking, well who won Best Director in 2005 then? The same guy who won last night, Brokeback Mountain and Life of Pi director, Ang Lee. Hmmm, interesting.

Whether or not the Academy got their choices right is debatable every year, however this year’s results have validated their choice to have more than five nominees for Best Picture. If four nominees are getting zero awards each year then there are too many nominees. However, this year was first time since the switch that only one Best Picture nominee got shut out from awards. While no film is all together perfect, nearly all of the Best Picture nominees had aspects about them that were deemed Oscar worthy, something not seen since the change. This does not speak to Argo’s weaknesses necessarily, but rather the depth and diversity of this year’s Best Picture nominees. The Academy was not shy about spreading the Oscar love this year, except to Steven Spielberg, who is now 2/7 in Best Director nominations, and 1/8 in Best Picture nominations, making him (statistically) one of the biggest losers in Oscar history. Something tells me that Spielberg’s four going on five (five?!) decades of dominating Hollywood is a nice consolation.