Television and feeling the passage of life

There’s an intriguing passage in Difficult Men, an account of television’s ‘third golden age’, concerning the temporality of Mad Men and how it differs from The Sopranos, which is widely acknowledged as the originator of our current glut of quality television:

And Mad Men used the ongoing, open-ended format to approach a kind of radical realism that went way beyond whether, say, the refrigerator in the Draper home was the perfect shade of 1962 olive green. The show, in a wildly un-TV-like way, insisted on portraying how the passage of life feels.

“The first season of The Sopranos, you literally felt like you were being dropped out of an air plane every episode,” Weiner said. “You constantly had the sensation that you missed an episode: ‘Everybody in this story seems to know that guy. Do I know that guy? Was he on last week?’ No, they act like they know that guy because they have a life without you.

Brett Martin, Difficult Men, pg. 261

I take the author’s point to be that Mad Men seeks to create an experience of immersion in the passage of life within its narrative world rather than, as with say The Sopranos and The Wire, a tour of an immensely detailed social world with theĀ  route driven entirely by the exigencies of story telling. I haven’t actually watched Mad Men beyond the first series because I found it too slow. But I’ve been thinking about temporality in film and television since watching Boyhood last year, a film representing the titular boy growing up over 7 years, in the process capturing the goal of my PhD thesis (key question: what is it for a person to change?) far more perfectly than did the thesis I spent six years working on:

Categories: Mediated Matters

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1 reply »

  1. the west wing did this earlier didnt it, sorkins obsession with work life in the foreground, so the character’s social lives unfolded mainly off screen

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