Friday, February 27, 2015

Mad Men Season 3 Episode 7: Seven Twenty Three

Three people, three very different mornings.  We'll find out how each of them ended up where they are by the end of the episode.  Peggy Olson is asleep, naked - her clothes tossed haphazardly on the floor - lying next to some man, Betty Draper is her perfectly put together self, luxuriating on a plush couch, and Don Draper wakes up on the floor of some unknown room. empty bottles and a bloodied face letting us know he likely had the worst night among the three of them.

Before we know where he is or what happened, we flash back to the start of the day when Don was freshly scrubbed and ready for the day. Throughout the episode we are teased by the karmic payback that apparently befalls Don as we witness one after another of the reasons he probably deserves what he gets.

At home Betty and her interior decorator are working on the family room and Don is bored and disinterested as usual.  The new styling has mix of Western and Asian influences, the latter a major theme of Bert Cooper's office.  The decorator refers to the area in front of the fireplace as the hearth, the soul of the home.  It is there that Betty later places the oversized piece of furniture that reminds her of a man not her husband.   

Don strolls into work at 9:30 and sees the Greek chorus gathered around his secretary's desk. Conrad Hilton has parked himself in Don's office.  He is playing with Don like a cat bats around a mouse before devouring it. He's cryptic and toying and only after making the usually unflappable Don sweat he tells him that he wants to offer Sterling Cooper some of his NY business.  But first, he phrases it as having unmet needs and what one does about a wandering eye, as if he were confessing to philandering and not offering up a piece of his business.  His unannounced arrival and misleading discussion all make Don squirm - and Connie seems to enjoy watching Don's discomfort.

News of landing part of the Hilton account would be a source of celebration for most admen but it starts a series of escalating problems for Don.  To land the account Don will have to sign a contract and the boy who grew up with the hobo code is not one to be tied down to a contract.  The push to get Don to sign a three-year contract with Sterling Cooper become the focal point of the episode with him running away from his responsibilities both figuratively and literally, being visited by ghosts from his past, abusing his co-workers, and being irresponsible.

Elsewhere, Betty is suddenly overcome with civic pride and wants to take an active role in local politics - which has nothing at all to do with the entry into her life of the dashing politician Henry Francis.  One of the ladies is familiar with Henry, familiar enough to realize that the porcelain beauty Betty Draper is the perfect person to contact him and ask for a favor.  Betty calls him and they meet to discuss whether he can help with a proposed water tower, but the meeting has little to do with politics and everything to do with Betty's strong attraction to this mysterious older man.

At Sterling Cooper, both Pete and Peggy try and talk their way onto the new Hilton account, with little luck.  Don is not feeling in a particularly benevolent mood and views the employee's jostling to get onto the account as unseemly.  He offers a carrot to Pete, telling him that if he brings in North American Aviation they can talk about Hilton.  But Peggy only gets the stick as he is unnecessarily rude to her when she asks to be put on the account.

Don's timing is as bad as his treatment of Peggy, because she is being wooed by Duck Philips to leave Sterling Cooper.  Duck sends gifts to both Peggy and Pete, trying to get both of them to jump ship.  But only Peggy is interested in considering his offer, especially after Don berates her for asking to be considered for the new account.  Eventually, she takes Duck up on his offer, but not to leave Sterling Cooper, just to go into his bed.  She'll get back at Don any way she can, even if she's not yet ready to leave for another firm.

Don drags his feet about signing the contract and Roger tries to involve Betty to get Don to give in (after his own attempts to get Don to sign fell flat).  That was a huge miscalculation on Roger's part as Betty does not have that kind of power over her husband.  Instead, they get into a fight and he storms off into the night, where he's about to s meet up with the missing pieces of the cosmic puzzle that ends up with him bloodied and bruised, face down on a strange floor.

He finds two hitch hikers and picks them up.  He is swept up in their story of running off and evading their responsibilities.  Dick Whitman would approve.  He sees himself as like minded, another free spirit, going wherever he wants, and doesn't see himself as they see him, the button-downed establishment figure.  They drug him and rob him and before he is knocked out, he has a vision of his father telling a joke about a hillbilly and mocking Don for his white collar life.

Don's efforts to run away from his problems were unsuccessful and he ends up back at the office on the date in the episode's title, July 23, 1963. He finds Bert Cooper in his office this time and Bert has an ultimatum.  Don has to sign the contract.  Bert knows Don's secret and uses that knowledge to get what he wants.  Yet, in some way he gives Don an out: "After all, when it comes down to it, who is really signing this contract anyway?"  He signs, but with the provision that he never has to talk to Roger (who's taking the brunt of Don's anger) again.

We're so used to the calm, unflappable Don Draper, it's odd seeing him nervous and unsettled.  But he is both with Conrad Hilton.  The man he had such an easy rapport with at the country club now makes him so uneasy.  He is on the defensive and off-kilter, and much of that was of Connie's doing.  He walks in unexpectedly and plops himself down in Don's chair, sizing him up, finding fault in his tardiness, his office.  Then he proceeds to pretend to discuss his persona sex life with Don.  Connie enjoys the power he has over Don, seeing him sweat, making him jump on command.  After that interaction, it's not surprising that Don has visions of his abusive father later that day in a drug-induced hallucination.

There was a solar eclipse on July 20, 1963, and here's a Life magazine photo of people using the camera obscura fashioned out of boxes back then:
The eclipse would have hit its peak at about 4:30 PM Eastern that day.

Peggy must have a serious case of whiplash.  When she fought to be a copywriter and asked for her own office, she was applauded and rewarded.  Now, when she asks to be put on the Hilton account she is lambasted for asking for something and told to just do her job and keep quiet.  Be a good girl, don't make waves, don't stand up for yourself, don't ask for what you want (remember how harshly Don took her asking for a raise).  She wants to stay loyal to Don, but he's making it very difficult by treating her like crap.

The music over the closing credits was Tennessee Ernie Ford's version of the song "Sixteen Tons" which tells the story of a rough-living coal miner who has no life of his own as he "sold his soul to the company store."  By contrast, by signing his contract, Don got a nice fat pay day in exchange for a mere three year commitment.  But, despite the money, Don feels as under the thumb as the poor coal miner.

There was a reservoir built in Ossining, next to Pleasantville Road.  And Brookside Elementary is the local elementary school (though Miss Farrell is fictitious).  The neighbor who mentioned "Silent Spring" is referring to the 1962 book that caused widespread concern about the use of pesticides in the environment and helped jump start the pro-ecology movement of the 60s that continues today.

Both Don and Betty are coy about their relationships with the rich and powerful.  Don doesn't let Roger know that he met Connie at Roger's party (instead making it look as if the meeting was all Don's doing) and Betty does not let on that her acquaintance of Henry came from some serious flirting on both their parts.  Although, the lady who claims to know of Henry Francis was quite sure that a young, attractive woman like Betty would stand a better chance asking for his help.

Did you notice the look Allison gives Don when he tells her to hold his calls?  She recognizes how nervous he is, how important this meeting is for him, and she finds it cute how hard Don is trying to impress Conrad Hilton.


Roger: I watched the sunrise today; I couldn’t sleep.
Don: How was it?
Roger: Average.

Connie: I don’t know what I’m more disturbed by, the fact that you don’t have a bible or that there’s not a single family photo.
Don: I’m easily distracted.
Connie: You should have those things.   They’ll make you feel better about what you do.  Start showing up on time. 

Don: Maybe I’m late because I was spending time with my family reading the bible.   

Connie: Having me in your life is gonna change things.
Don: I look forward to it.
Connie: They always say that.

Betty:  It's three years, Don. What's the matter?  You don't know where you're going to be in three years?

Bert: Would you say I know something about you, Don?
Don: I would.

Bert. Then sign.  After all, when it comes down to it, who is really signing this contract anyway?

Suicide watch: 
I cannot believe you just had a baby and you redid your house.  Are you suicidal?

Spoilery Observations (Don't read until you're all caught up):

Betty jiggles one of the drawers in the study and that drawer becomes Chekhov's drawer and the pay off is only a few episodes away.

Roger was jealous when Ogilvy (David Ogilvy of Ogilvy and Mather) got his autobiography published (in 1963) and it encouraged him to write his own, "Sterling's Gold."

Francine is quoted saying "real estate, that's scary."  A silly line, but funny in light of the fact that Francine eventually becomes a successful realtor.

We'd already seen some attraction between Sally's teacher and Don and their little dance today only solidified that it is something on both of their minds.  Most of the women we've seen Don with up to this point have been strong and confident and independent, but Suzanne seems different - defensive, on edge.  It's possible that all of the dads at her school are coming on to her, but it's also possible that she's attracted to Don and trying to flirt with him or see if the feeling is mutual and is just not very good at it.

Betty is clearly smitten with Henry Francis and we know that the relationship will be more than just a momentary distraction or flirtation.  He treats her like she is not treated anymore by Don.  Henry puts her on a pedestal, adores her, finds everything about her fascinating.  He protects her and thinks about what she wants.  He is also older and self-confident and very much a father figure as much as a romantic figure for her.

Don pesters Pete about nailing down Northern American Aviation, yet it is later the government background check that leads Don to almost run away for the millionth time, fearing his secret will finally be revealed.  And speaking of secrets, while Bert has had no reason to remind Don that he knows the truth, Bert finds the right time to pull that out whenever he needs Don's obedience.

Don does eventually go along with tradition and put some family photos on his desk, but never a Bible.

The Voice Season 8, Episode Two

While a Congressional investigation was going on into why none of the first eight artists on The Voice chose Adam Levine, another round of blind auditions took place on Tuesday.  My cable company must have been alerted to Adam's travails as the description for tonight's show was "Adam Levine competes with Pharrell, Blake and Christina to land the best new artist on his team."

First up was Anthony Riley who took on James Brown's "I Feel Good."  Having cut his teeth on busking, eight years as a street performer, Anthony knows how to engage a crowd and he has a powerhouse voice to go with his enthusiasm and showmanship.  And, although the show is call The Voice and the first round is a blind audition, it doesn't hurt that he's also a good looking guy.

Anthony had the judges even before the song started.  Within the first couple of notes, all judges had turned their chairs (his was the fastest four-chair turn around).  And that was a collective good decision as that meant they all got to enjoy his full performance.  Anthony should just punch his ticket to the finale - he's got the whole package. All four judges put on the hard sell, even Blake (especially after hearing that Anthony likes country music).  He offered to be the whiskey in Anthony's water, Christina and Adam pleaded with him not to break their hearts, but ultimately he went with Pharrell.  And Adam put the Suicide Hotline on his phone.

Next was Gabriel Wolfchild who was singing "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" by another singer who changed his name, Bob Dylan.  Not sure what spirit animal a Dylan is, but it's worked out pretty well for him.  I did not like Gabriel's voice nor his interpretation of the song.  His voice is too thin and flat for me, he doesn't seem to have any range, and he basically talked through the song.  I don't get the three judges' reaction at all.

He has an interesting look, enough to get Adam to profess his love.  Christina gave one of the best pitches I've ever heard and even though the folksy guitarist seemed more suited for Blake or Adam, the free spirit went with Christina who promised to work with him  and cater to him and his sound and what he wants to do as an artist.  Favorite moment, Pharrell's reaction when he realized that Gabriel would have gone with him.

So Adam is 0-10 and threatening to quit.  The next artist is Brooke Adee singing "Skinny Love" by Bon Iver.  She may be a small teenager, but she has a big voice.  Points off for the silly hair jewelry, but points added for the end notes on each line of the chorus.  She has a beautifully rich tone to her voice and pays attention to the lyrics she's singing.  And I give her even more points for having to deal with curly hair in Florida.

Brooke is adorable and talented and it would be easy to hate her and then she calls Blake and Adam "Tom and Jerry" and you fall in love with her. And she giggles.  I was shocked that only half the judges turned for her.  When it comes down to her picking between Dumb and Dumber, she goes where Danielle Bradbery and RaeLynn and other young now successful country artists have gone - Team Blake.  And Adam starts looking around for the hidden camera that is filming this punking that's obviously going on.

The next artist is a bald bundle of joy named Tonya Boyd-Cannon.  She's got dimples for days and so much positivity and energy, you pray she can sing.  You hear the first notes of Pharrell's "Happy" and it's such a perfect fit for her.  She nails it, knocks it out of the park, you choose the phrase.  She's not a big belter, she has more nuance and control.  I love her slightly raspy tone, her stage presence, her interpretation of a song we all know.

Adam tries reverse psychology to get Tonya not to pick the female singer with the amazing voice or the guy who wrote the freaking song she auditioned with.  Poor Tonya is so overcome with emotion, her voice quavering as she realizes she's talking to the judges and gets to pick one of the three smart ones who turned around (shame on you, Blake).  After the commercial break, we find out that the lucky winner of a great singer is...Adam.  Thank the good lord, Adam was pulled in off the ledge.  His first team member and it's a really good one.

Now that Adam has finally broken through, the fantasy of all the other judges filling up their teams first is over.  Time to go through the rest of the auditioners. Next is Samoan Joe Tolo singing "To Love Somebody."  There was too much vibrato throughout the song for my taste.  And I thought there wastn't anything distinctive about his sound.  But it doesn't matter what I think, only what the judges think and two of them turned their chairs.

The most impressive thing about Joe is his high note and he and Christina bonded over their ability to attract dogs from around the world with just their voices.  Blake made his best pitch - I've won, Christina hasn't - but there was no denying how fun it would be to have a singoff till your ears bleed with the vocal diva.  Joe joined Team Christina and I can only imagine what vocal gymnastics she'll have him do in the next round.

Next up is mush mouthed Mia Z. who garbled her way through "The Thrill is Gone" by BB King.  I hated everything about this performance.  Too mannered, too calculated, and too cute in a decidedly uncute way.  Oh, look how I am too cool to enunciate.  It's not a two-syllable word spee-ell, it's spell. Oh, look how I can hit a high note.  Is it over yet?

I've had it up to here with the "can you believe I'm only 15?" as a substitute for following some simple rules of singing (communicate) and kudos to Adam for telling her to cut down on all the affectations.  Even Christina, the queen of oversinging, must have thought this was too much.  In the end, only two - Blake and Pharrell turned.  Mia may have a good voice, but she needs to stop hiding it behind all the tricks and her wanton abuse of basic elocution.  She says she wants to sing the Blues, because as a beautiful young girl she's had a really rough time, and while Blake tries to convince her that country is just a stone's throw from Blues, she goes with Pharrell.

Blaze Johnson was up next with "How to Save a Life" by The Fray.  I cannot fairly judge this performance because I'm a huge fan of The Fray and this is one of my favorite songs.  Cookie Monster could croak it out and I'd swoon.  William Shatner could do a spoken-word version and I'd get goosebumps.  Blake is from the Bahamas and can go in an out of a really cool accent, but his singing voice is nicely unaffected.

With the caveats out of the way, I happened to like his soft yet rough-edged voice.  He did lose his breath early in the song and while that could be nerves, he needs to watch that.  But he hit some nice notes, played nicely with the melody and showed off a  good tone that might work on a song that I'm not inclined to love under any circumstance.  He had his choice of judges and ultimately went with Adam.

Deanna Johnson is back for her second try and she's gone from a zero to hero with a four-chair turnaround.  She sang "All I Want" by Kodaline (yes, I had to look that up, who or what is Kodaline, anyone?).  I did not like the heavy, throaty Cher sound so she could have offered free puppies and chocolate and I would not have hit my button.

It goes without saying that she's got the look - she's gorgeous and dresses well.  She says she like Florence and the Machine and I can see her doing well in that genre.  Adam had been using the "I was first to turn around" bit for the last two days, to little success.  This time, he was last to hit his button, getting in right under the wire.  And it worked.  Deanna and the frog that lives in her throat went with Team Adam.

My Rankings:
Anthony Riley (Team Pharrell)
Tony Boyd-Cannon (Team Adam)
Brooke Adee (Team Pharrell)
Gabriel Wolfchild (Team Christina)
Blaze Johnson (Team Adam)
Joe Tolo (Team Christina)
Deanna Johnson (Team Adam)
Mia Z. (Team Pharrell)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Voice Recap: Season 8, Week One, Night One

This is The Voice.

It's back and she's back and so I'm back as well.  The Voice Season 8 got underway while the ink on runner-up Matt McAndrews' brand new recording contract was still wet.  After having three team members in the final four and seeing two of his team signed to contracts in the days since the Season 7 finale, Adam Levine must be flying high.  Sure Blake won Season 7, but Adam was the undisputed king of the four-chair turn arounds and had his pick of artists.  Even with Christina Aguilera's much ballyhooed return to the show, and renowned producer Pharrell back for his second time, Adam had to be feeling pretty, pretty, pretty good as the season began.
By the end of week one, Adam must have thought he was in a musically inspired episode of the Twilight Zone.  One after another of this week's artists given a choice did not pick the golden boy.  He might be married to a super model, fronting a hit-producing machine like Maroon 5, and People's Sexiest Man, but Adam thoroughly lost his mojo.  Let's see some of the artists who decided to go another way, starting with Monday night's show.

First up was Italian American rocker Sarah Potenza who growled through Rod Stewart's "Stay With Me."  She looks more like the fun middle school art teacher who shops at the funkiest second hand shop in town than a rock star. Her voice is as rough as her unruly hair and had only one gear - loud. She picked a raspy, loud, one note song and did a good job of sounding like a middle-aged Rod Stewart, but I'm not sure that's a compliment. 

I may not have pushed the button on my Voice App, but all four judges did.  Adam pushed first and then started making "white guy trying to be soulful" face.  Pharrell was next and was so overcome by Sarah's Mike Meyers as Linda "Coffee Talk" Richman inspired-glasses that he stood and made his own array of strange "O" faces.  Eventually all four turned and the begging/pleading/sweet talking began.  Adam gave her a hug and Blake and she bonded over Nashville and boots.  In the end, she surprised us all by going with country boy Blake.

Next was young crooner Lowell Oakley who sang Duke Ellington's "Don't Get Around Much Anymore."  The bar is set pretty low when there are just a handful of people singing in a particular genre and Lowell would not have been Perry Como's back up's back up in the old days, but today he gets two judges to turn around (kudos to Christina and Blake, you passed your hearing test).

The kid has a nice voice, a decent tone and stays on key.  It's just not for me an interesting or engaging voice.  Not much else to say about the performance, but I wonder if his pants have their own twitter account yet.  The tight above ankle pants have a life of their own and I really didn't care to find out if he was circumcised or not.  Maybe in the future The Voice can borrow the black box from The Bachelor.  After Adam and Pharrell give their spiels, and Pharrell symbolically strips bare for Lowell, the teen breaks Adam's heart and joins Team Pharrell.

The next "one who got away" from Adam was soul singer Rob Taylor.  He showed amazing range in faithfuly covering Luke James' "I Want You." Deep rich low tones, crystal clear ultra, super duper high notes.  Rob has it all - except for a decent barber.  Hopefully TPTB will help him with a make over before the live rounds, because his voice is really solid.

Not surprising, there's quite a lot of salesmanship going on as each coach tries to land the very talented singer.  But no one has a pitch like Christina, who gives Rob a taste of what a golden duet they can do in the future and lures him away from her fellow coaches like the siren she is.  Hopefully, unlike the sailors lured by the siren's song, Rob will have a nice, long, healthy run on the show.  This one has got to hurt Adam, but it's still early in the night.  He'll charm the next one. 

The next four-chair turn around was country singer Cody Wickline who took on the George Jones classic "He Stopped Loving Her Today."  Adam hit his button within the first three seconds and then saw as his dream of bagging his first artist of Season 8 slowly slipped away from him with each subsequent button push.  

Cody has a heavy old-fashioned country accent which borders on Muppet-like.  He needs to reel in the tricks and schtick and just focus on singing from his heart.  There were definite good moments and I like the little cry in his voice, but I hope he keeps on the modern side of the country spectrum and doesn't go too twangy. It was an obvious choice for him to go with Blake, so Adam shouldn't have taken this one that hard.  Maybe he'll have luck with the next singer.

Treeva Gibson is fifteen and both her parents are deaf, so her angelic voice was a pleasant surprise. I can't imagine what they must have thought when they were told she wanted to be a singer and they had no idea if she had the talent.  Well, she does!  She did a great job with Lana Del Rey's "Young and Beautiful" but only managed to turn two chairs - Christina and Blake.  Adam missed the boat, holding out for perfection rather than recognizing some young and beautifullly raw talent.  

I'll have to give Blake credit for the best description of the night, as he told Treeva that her voice drapes over the band.  She has a really warm texture to her voice and she is a nice change from the quirky indie girls they usually populate the show with.  It's one of the few performances I've listened to over again. She's effortlessly good - she doesn't rely on runs or overly dramatic motions, just some good singing.  I'm worried that her new coach, Christina, may have her do too much, stretch her voice beyond what it should do.  But I'm looking forward to hearing her again.

Meghan Linsey was one half of Steel Magnolia, a mildly successful country duo in the late Aughts.  But, both personal (a breakup between her and her fiancee/partner) and professional (the move towards bro-country) problems left her solo and label-less.  Despite her country music background, Meghan would like to reinvent herself as a bluesy rocker.  Interestingly, Meghan had sung with Blake on stage back when she was opening for him a few years ago and was probably expecting to have to choose between him and the other coaches. 

Not so fast, Meghan.  The only coach unimpressed with her gravelly take on "Love Hurts" was her old pal Blake.  I have to agree with his decision not to turn around (though it was more likely made because he already has a singer who growls and sounds like she's a two-pack-a-day smoker).  I am not a fan of her voice - it's a bad combination of Jennifer Nettles and Janis Joplin - and I prefer my woman singers to be slightly more feminine sounding and not the vocal equivalent of Rambo and Jean Claude Van Damme.  So finally Adam's losing streak will end now that he doesn't have to contend with Blake.  Oooh, no, sorry, Adam.  Meghan is going Team Pharrell.

The next singer, Joshua Davis, got one of the fastest turn arounds of the night and whatever he did in the studio to get that immediate reaction did not translate to my experience listening on my comfy couch at home.  He sang Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released" and it got Adam and Blake to hit their buttons before his first note had stopped reverberating.  But all I heard was a nondescript, unmemorable singer who sounded slightly better than Elvis Costello (which is not saying much; my vacuum sounds better than Elvis).

Joshua is another seasoned performer who's been struggling for years and is hoping that exposure on The Voice will make the difference.  It certainly can't hurt, but I'd be shocked if he makes it beyond the battle rounds.  There is nothing unique or identifiable about his voice and I didn't even think he really connected with the song.  He has purdy eyes though.   He and his blue eyes were swept up in Blake's magic and once again Adam failed to get a singer that he wanted.  This is getting awkward, but I don't think this is the great get that got away.

Last singer of the night may haunt Adam, though.  He is Sawyer Fredericks and he's young and cute and possessed with a voice that is the complete opposite of Joshua's. It has a tone and sound unlike anyone else's and you'll immediately know it's him when you hear it.  He's got the whole package - the styling, the appreciation for a wide genre of music, and the chops to mesmerize an audience.  He's the one everyone will be talking about from tonight's show.

His take on the old American folk song "I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow" made the song sound both timeless and fresh.  Even if folk is not your genre, I'd be surprised if you weren't hitting your imaginary button.  I loved his singing, his guitar playing and his confidence on stage.  And I love how he plays around with the notes, not in a showy way, but as if the notes had a life of their own.  He seemed really in the moment, caught up in the music, and it gave me chills.  If he chooses Adam, the night not only wouldn't be a complete waste for Adam, but he'd manage to grab the biggest talent of the night.  So after much lobbying by the judges, Sawyer makes his decision.  Pharrell.  And Adam just died a little inside.

Rankings for the Night:
Sawyer Fredericks (Team Pharrell)
Rob Taylor (Team Christina)
Teeva Gibson (Team Christina)
Cody Wickline (Team Blake)
Sarah Potenza (Team Blake)
Meghan Linsey (Team Pharrell)
Lowell Oakley (Team Pharrell)
Joshua Davis (Team Blake)