"Difficult Men" generous with "Sopranos" and "Wire" insights, not so much "Mad Men" @ 24 July 2013 08:51 AM
We live in an era in which the Wicked Witch of the West has become the hero in a big, successful and superb musical, where Sleeping Beauty's enemy is about to tell her side of the story in a major tentpole movie. Good and bad are relative. It is reflection of the injustices and inequities. In real life, often bad behaviors are very publicly given surface rewards and valuable publicity.

One of the threads within "Difficult Men," what the author calls "The Third Golden Age" of TV, is a world of dark dramas in which the heroes aren't very good people, but they're not textbook bad. Tony Soprano, Don Draper and Walter White are fallen people but are also sympathetic. All the shows seem to depict voyeuristic situations against cautionary consequences.

So do the people, apparently, who create and run the shows. With only two clear exceptions, the guiding forces behind these artistic landmarks are complicated and conflicted. The duality of their collaborative styles do not exactly transform their writers rooms into sparkling joyfests. The anecdotes about the workplace situations are among the most compelling sections in the book. The biggest successes seem to come at the highest costs, especially on a human level.

If you love "The Wire" and "The Sopranos," this book is a sumptuous feast. Not so much for "Mad Men," which gets little more than a chapter. The other shows might not warrant more  few pages or a few chapters, but "The Wire" and "The Sopranos" simply dominate the text. Admittedly, their stories also provide a narrative thread. the points about some other programs might not warrant as much detail, especially if the points are already elsewher. And Martin may have had greater access to some showrunners than others -- "Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner might have been less forthcoming with background info, as he is known for keeping so much under wraps. The staff of a current show would rather not risk his/her position for a candid interview.

It makes the most sense for "The Sopranos" to dominate the book, since it is clearly positioned as the touchstone of this new era. Even if you don't watch the show, the facts behind "The Sopranos," as well as the general gist of the show, are enough to hold interest. However, significant as "The Wire" is, no other series gets so much detailed coverage. A little too far into the weeds.

Martin tends to dismiss much of the remaining television landscape, past and present, in his effort to build a case for this particular era. His rhapsodizing of these recent works is may certainly be warranted, but they and their creators is not islands unto themselves. It might have been helpful to acknowledge such works as "Citizen Kane," "Carousel" or most Hitchcock films, all of which gave an insight into caddish, corruptible lead characters and placed viewers in the uncomfortable position of rooting for them.

The creators, these "difficult men," are unique in the circumstances and the time frames in which they were able to envision their concepts, but there might have more room devoted to some and less to others. That said, this era is worth examining as are these works. Martin's exhaustive research is evident. I'd love to read a full book on "Mad Men" by Martin. Maybe that chapter is a preview for his next book
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