May 27th, 2008

breaking bad

Mad Men

Season One of Mad Men ended on Sunday night. I don't know if other seasons have been aired in the US yet (if so - what is the verdict?) This is one of the highest quality programmes I have ever seen on TV. It is almost up with Deadwood and the Wire as an exemplary drama serial.

I didn't watch the first few episodes because I thought it would be glib and uncritical, perhaps nostalgic or a mere costume drama. When I first watched it I thought it threw a spotlight on the present day by presenting characters who were more ignorant and unselfconscious, and yet consequently more free and innocent, than we are today. But later you come to see how each one is trapped in a sticky web of expectation. But finally, what lifts it beyond either of those interpretations is that each character is struggling, with mixed success, to achieve authenticity of self, within the social web. In that respect it is very like Jane Austen. The most like Jane Austen of any show I have seen on telly.

There has been a lively debate about Mad Men in The Guardian, with these excellent readers letters published today. Ilma Cave expresses my own views very succinctly (though I would disagree with her word 'oblivious'):
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breaking bad

'He do the police in different voices'

I'm listening to Red Mars on audio at the moment. It's a wide ranging story with dozens of vivid characters in it, but the reading is quite different from the other multi-character stories I have listened to lately. I'm wondering whether this is because of cultural differences between the way British and American companies and voice-artists approach audio books. or it may just be coincidence that all the American-voiced audios I have listened to have been delivered in this style, and the Brits in another.

In this reading of Red Mars there is almost no attempt to differentiate characters by sex, age or nationality. Russians, Arabs, Americans, French, men and women, they are all delivered in the same voice. Instead the reading is calm, authoritative and measured. This lends gravitas and conviction to the story, and helps deliver its imaginative leap into a speculative future. I think I'm following the plot better than I did when I read it in text. On the other hand it loses some of the humour and warmth of Kim Stanley Robinson's original.

In contrast I just finished listening to an abridged version of Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. This was done is a dazzling style, with different interlocking actors being used to voice the nested storylines in diverse vocal styles. Great fun, very engaging, but almost impossible to understand (and I've read the book). Having said that, swimming as I was on top of the story, occasionally grabbing some clue as to what the heck was happening, I was so emotionally affected by it that at times I had to pause the story to collect myself, because it was so painful or moving.

So - different styles, different strengths and weaknesses.

The heading BTW is from 'Our Mutual Friend' by Dickens, and furnished TS Eliot with a draft title for the poem that became The Wasteland. It describes a barely literate man (called Sloppy IIRC) who reads the newspaper to his wife in a colourful style.