Mad Men – TV week

I have not had much time to watch movies lately because we have been watching loads of TV shows on instant Netflix. All four seasons of Mad Men are currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: Mad Men (3007-2010) – Rated TV-14

“Set in 1960s New York City, this AMC series takes a peek inside an ad agency during an era when the cutthroat business had a glamorous lure. When the cigarette smoke clears and the martinis are set down, at the center of it all is ad man Don Draper (Jon Hamm). Meanwhile, his marriage suffers as his wife, Betty (January Jones), recoils from his womanizing ways. Garnering numerous awards, the show also stars John Slattery and Elisabeth Moss.”

This one is absolutely a no-brainer. If you have not seen Mad Men, you are missing the best-written and -acted show on television. This is not to say that it is my favorite show as I love the macabre so Dexter and The Walking Dead are my favorites. Still you are really missing out.

My big bone to pick with Mad Men is that they command such a large slice of the AMC budget that the budget for The Walking Dead (as well as Breaking Bad from what I hear) has been cut and showrunner Frank Darabont has been cut loose.

Mad Men was such a daring move by AMC. Having a series set in the 1960s automatically means greater expense and with the slavish attention to detail the creators have (incredible period props, outfits, and hair styles), the budget for those departments must be shocking but having a program set in another time period also automatically means a greater difficulty winning viewers.

Setting the story in an advertising agency also limits the melodramatic opportunities afforded police and medical dramas. It does however allow them to show how advertising developed for politicians and products which is surprisingly fascinating.

Tobacco use, alcohol use, and sexuality are not only common but rampant throughout the show. Mad Men also does not shy away from the logical consequences of these behaviors.

Jon Hamm is fabulous as the lead, Don Draper. He shows a great deal of charisma and some wonderful nuances in his acting. I like that he is simply the protagonist and most assuredly not the hero or villain.

Hamm is ably supported by John Slattery and Robert Morse as the Sterling & Cooper of ad agency Sterling & Cooper. Working for Draper are Vincent Kartheiser as reprehensible schemer Pete Campbell who strangely comes across very sympathetically, Aaron Staton as Ken Cosgrove, and Rich Sommer as Harry Crane.

For all of that, it is actually the women who are most interesting. Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson has the best character arc as an exceptionally independent-minded secretary. Christina Hendricks is absolutely riveting as uber-secretary Joan Harris. Christina also gets the best outfits. January Jones plays the long-suffering wife Betty Draper and while I have not cared for her in other roles (Unknown, X-Men First Class), she seems to really inhabit Betty.

The acting and writing are so dead-on that everyone comes across as a real person and there are no heroes and only a few villains. I simply cannot recommend this show highly enough.

Conan the Destroyer

After the utterly disappointing reboot of Conan the Barbarian, I went back to my old pal Netflix. Instant Netflix currently has the original Conan the Barbarian available for viewing but I have already expressed my appreciation for that flawed movie. The sequel, Conan the Destroyer is also currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: Conan the Destroyer (1984) – Rated PG

While on a quest to retrieve a magical gem, muscleman Conan (Arnold Schwarzenegger) vanquishes mortal and supernatural adversaries with help from his ham-fisted sidekick (Tracey Walter), a wacky wizard (Mako), a fierce woman warrior (Grace Jones) and a gigantic bodyguard (Wilt Chamberlain). But unbeknownst to Conan, there’s a traitor among the ranks. Sarah Douglas, Olivia dAbo and Jeff Corey also star in this rousing, fast-paced sequel.

John Milius and Arnold Schwarzenegger made Conan the Barbarian ooze with testosterone. For the sequel, Richard Fleischer was handed the directors chair. Fleischer took the Conan concept and attempted to turn it into family friendly fare.

The violence, while plentiful, is completely toned down here to, believe it or not, earn the film a PG rating. Also the rise in popularity of Dungeons & Dragons leads the film to be populated by wizards (Mako and others), thieves (Tracey Walter), and warriors (Wilt Chamberlain, Grace Jones) as well as a few varieties of monsters.

The physique of Conan is still awesome but Grace Jones comes across as more of a warrior than Arnold does. Of course this may be because she injured a fair number of the stuntmen on the film.

This is an example of how NOT to do an ensemble cast. Every member of the cast seems to be shouting “LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME!” in every scene. Grace Jones overplays her aggressiveness, Olivia dAbo overplays her cuteness, Mako and Tracey Walter fight for top sidekick status, and Sarah Douglas, Wilt Chamberlain (yes that Wilt – his only screen role), Pat Roach, and Jeff Corey slug it out for the villain slots.

I give this a watch recommendation because in spite of everything I have said, this is a fun, constantly moving Arnold romp. Also it is train-wreck fascinating to watch these “actors” (a bodybuilder, a model, a basketball player, two singers and even two professional wrestlers) step all over each other.

People Watch: Look for an unrecognizable Andre the Giant as the transformed Dagoth.