Category Archives: Film Festivals

Matt Wilstein: Top 5 Funniest: Ricky Gervais, Conan O’Brien, Seth Galifianakis and More

As predicted in last week’s Top 5 Funniest, the Emmy Awards provided some solidly hilarious moments, including the epic Jimmy Fallon/Glee opening number and George Clooney’s Modern Family cameo. But for me and many others, it was Ricky Gervais brief appearance as a presenter that really killed. From his Mel Gibson gem, to the beer he gave away to everyone in the audience (except for recovering alcoholic Matthew Perry), to Bucky Gunts(!), this was the highlight of the show.

Jewel continued her Funny or Die comeback mission with this video in which we go “Betwixt the Music” with the little known folk-pop duo Sarah Barracuda and the Jewel. Any video that manages to effectively re-purpose the Sarah Palin playing the flute footage is OK with me.

Conan O’Brien may not have gotten much air-time at the Emmys, but he did make a big splash this week by with the highly anticipated announcement of the name of his new TBS show. I would brag about calling the name of the show as Conan the day before it happened, if he didn’t end up calling it Conaw instead.

The last two celebrities to appear on “Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis” (Steve Carell and Ben Stiller) are both comedians. So it was fun to see someone with zero sense of humor get the chance to sit down with Zach Galifianakis’ twin brother Seth.

The fifth and final video of the week is 60 seconds of unintentional awkward humor from the future ex-Governor of Arizona Jan Brewer. If this is what happens when she’s asked to deliver a prepared opening statement, I’d hate to see someone ask her a tough question.

More comedy videos at:

Read more: Jan Brewer, Between Two Ferns, Conan, Funny or Die, Sean Penn, Emmys, Sarah Palin, Jewel, Zach Galifianakis, Arizona, Emmy Awards, Ricky Gervais, Palin, Conan O'Brien, Comedy News

Comedian Robert Schimmel dies after car accident (AP)

AP – Standup comic Robert Schimmel, a frequent guest on Howard Stern’s radio show, has died after suffering serious injuries in a car accident. He was 60.

Scott Mendelson: Tyler Perry As an Oscar Contender? Why It’s Not As Crazy As It Sounds

As David Poland correctly predicted just a week ago, Lionsgate has moved the newest Tyler Perry film, For Colored Girls, from its original January 14th, 2011 slot into the heart of the awards season. It will now open wide on November 5th, which is incidentally the same weekend that Precious (which Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey put their names on after the fact to insure a Lionsgate distribution) debuted in limited release, wracking up a record $108,000 per each of its eighteen screens. The film is a change of pace for Perry, as it is the first time that he is directing a film based on a prior source, the 1975 Ntozake Shange play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf. The play itself is a collection of twenty poems dealing with various social issues (rape, abortion, etc) that are performed by seven women known only by a color (‘Lady in Blue’, etc). The cast is pretty huge, and includes a handful of Perry veterans (Kimberly Elise, Janet Jackson, etc), along with Whoopi Goldberg, Kerry Washington, Loretta Devine, Phylicia Rashad, and Thandie Newton making their debut in the Tyler Perry sandbox. To be blunt, nothing would make me happier than seeing a Perry film as a possible Oscar contender.

He’s the only mainstream filmmaker outside of Clint Eastwood who consistently makes adult dramas. I can’t defend Madea Goes to Jail or Why Did I Get Married Too? (the last five minutes of that sequel contains the biggest ‘shoot yourself in the foot’ ending since Spanglish), but he has solid work on his filmography. I Can Do Bad All By Myself is a low-key and engaging musical drama, and Angela Basset and Lance Gross are stunningly good in Meet the Browns. All of his films, both good (The Family That Preys) and bad (Diary of a Mad Black Woman, which he did not direct) boast fine performances by underemployed actors of color. Viola Davis is terrific in Madea Goes to Jail, and Daddy’s Little Girls contains the first leading theatrical role for Idris Elba, as well as a fine supporting performance from Louis Gossett Jr. And anyone who consistently casts Cicily Tyson gets a gold star just for that. There are any number of undervalued black actors who I’d love to see stretching their (melo)dramatic muscles in Atlanta (cough-Tony Todd-cough), and I’d love to see Eddie Murphy try dramatic acting again in an environment where he wasn’t the biggest star on the set.

I contend that The Family That Preys, a dark and morally complicated family drama with great work from Alfre Woodard and Kathy Bates, would have been a serious contender had Perry been a more respected name at that point and/or it hadn’t been written off as a ‘black film’. I’m not saying it’s a masterpiece, but it’s a damn good melodrama with several ‘Oscar bait elements’. It’s also better than several of the actual Oscar contenders from 2008 (The Reader, Revolutionary Road, etc). It’s easily Perry’s best, most complicated, and satisfying picture yet, so of course, it’s his lowest-grossing film. All of his films certainly have problems (racial and class stereotypes, the need to swing for the fences in his comic work, making light of genuinely unpleasant behavior, etc), but he is growing as a filmmaker and his flawed stories are almost always ones worth telling and worth watching, especially as so few mainstream filmmakers are making old-fashioned melodramas. And for all the talk about his religious leanings, his films are firmly rooted in the Veggie Tales brand of Christianity, preaching compassion, forgiveness, and empathy over divisive social issues. We’ll see if critics of the future hold Perry to the same esteem that we hold Douglas Sirk today.

If Tyler Perry the fine director of actors has truly made the most out of the opportunity to work with a writer who doesn’t have Tyler Perry’s flaws, than we may be in for a real treat on November 5th.

Read more: The Academy Awards, The Oscars, Tyler Perry, Tyler Perry Oscar?, Entertainment News

Telluride Film Festival reveals a lineup heavy on prestige titles


The Telluride Film Festival has over the past decade gained a reputation as a serious generator of buzz. Three years ago, "Juno" premiered at the eclectic Colorado event before embarking on its fall-season carpet ride, while awards heavyweight "Slumdog Millionaire" used the fest as an important springboard back in 2009. Before that, "Capote," "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "Brokeback Mountain" were all beneficiaries of the Telluride effect.

The Times will be covering the festival through the weekend, where my colleague John Horn will track many of the high-profile premieres and the unexpected gems. (As per tradition, Telluride announced its lineup Thursday, at the last moment, just hours before the festival was set to start; you can read about the slate, the likely standouts and the growing relevance of the festival in Horn's print story here. And for the full list of what's in the fest's main Show section, click through to the jump of this post.)

Among the movies looking to get a leg up are some returning filmmakers, most notably "Slumdog" director Danny Boyle, who will unveil his mountain-climber drama "127 Hours" at the festival. Fellow Fox Searchlight releases "Black Swan" and "Never Let Me Go" will also make their North American premieres at the festival, as will Peter Weir's "The Way Back" and Tom Hooper's "The King's Speech." At least a few films will win top prizes in the Telluride sweepstakes — we'll just have to wait a little longer to find out which.

–Steven Zeitchik

Photo: "Never Let Me Go" stars (from left) Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield; credit: Fox Searchlight

The Show lineup

"A LETTER TO ELIA" (directed by Martin Scorsese and Kent Jones)

"ANOTHER YEAR" (directed by Mike Leigh)

"BIUTIFUL" (directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu)

"CARLOS" (directed by Olivier Assayas)

"CHICO AND RITA" (directed by Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal)

"THE FIRST GRADER" (directed by Justin Chadwick)

"THE FIRST MOVIE" (directed by Mark Cousins)

"HAPPY PEOPLE: A YEAR IN THE TAIGA" (directed by Dmitry Vasyukov with Werner Herzog)

"IF I WANT TO WHISTLE, I WHISTLE" (directed by Florin Serban)

"THE ILLUSIONIST" (directed by Sylvain Chomet)

"INCENDIES" (directed by Denis Villeneuve)

"INSIDE JOB" (directed by Charles Ferguson)

"THE KING'S SPEECH" (directed by Tom Hooper)

LE QUATTRO VOLTE" (directed by Michelangelo Frammartino)

NEVER LET ME GO" (directed by Mark Romanek)

"OF GODS AND MEN" (directed by Xavier Beauvois)

"OKA! AMERIKEE" (directed by Lavinia Currier)

POETRY" (directed by Lee Chang-dong)

"PRECIOUS LIFE" (directed by Shlomi Eldar)

"THE PRINCESS OF MONTPENSIER" (directed by Bertrand Tavernier)

"TABLOID" (directed by Errol Morris)

"TAMARA DREWE" (directed by Stephen Frears)

"THE TENTH INNING" (directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick)

"THE WAY BACK" (directed by Peter Weir)

Regina King: The Emmys: As White As Ever

Since the Emmy ceremony, I have been going back and forth about whether or not I should compose this letter. I try hard in my daily life not to engage in uncomfortable situations regarding race. But sometimes it’s very difficult to find other reasons that better explain why certain events play out the way they do. It is impossible for me to ignore the published statistics regarding the number of people of color mentioned, celebrated or honored in the history of the televised Emmys. Up to and including this year, there have been only 53 non-white actors nominated for emmys out of nearly 1,000 possible nominations in the top four acting categories for drama and comedy.

I’ve worked in television nearly all of my professional life, and that statistic is quite sobering to me. And to add injury to my already sensitive nerve endings a picture of Rutina Wesley from True Blood, who attended this year’s Emmys, had a caption that read: “Regina King enters the 62nd Emmys.” No, I wasn’t there. Mistakes happen, right? Well after a few “mistakes” of how people of color are portrayed in the Hollywood media, I decided it was important to say something about how things go down in Hollywood.

The initial pull on my heart strings was not seeing the veteran Sesame Street actress Alaina Reed Hall included in this year’s memoriam. I know I am taking it somewhat personally because of the history I shared with her, but then I stopped to think about the fact that she was on Sesame Street for 12 years, a show that is an American institution. People of all ages and generations have seen and enjoyed this highly influential television show. You have to admit, to not recognize her contribution to television baffles the mind. I first wondered, maybe I had turned my head quickly and missed seeing Alaina’s picture scroll past the screen or she was mentioned later. But no such luck.

I am assuming other actors have lost someone close to them who weren’t recognized during that segment of previous Emmy telecasts. So I will take the stats about people of color out of my complaint and pose an essential question on behalf of any television artist of note working in our business. What is the process in determining who will and will not be recognized during the Emmy memoriam?

Read more: Rutina Wesley, Emmy Awards, Emmys, Emmy Awards in Memoriam, Emmy Nominations, Black Actors, Alaina Reed Hall, Entertainment News

Marshall Fine: Interview: Zhang Yimou Opens Noodle Shop

Remakes? They hold no interest for award-winning Chinese director Zhang Yimou.

And yet here he comes with A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop, his remake of the Coen brothers’ 1985 debut feature, Blood Simple.

“At the time I was looking for material for my next film, there were no good screenplays,” Zhang, 59, says through a translator in a telephone interview. “As a principal, I like to avoid remakes. But when it comes to a situation where I couldn’t find a script I liked, then I turned to the possibility of a remake.”

Zhang’s films range from the cool, deliberate beauty of Raise the Red Lantern to imaginative, even operatic martial-arts stories such as Hero and House of Flying Daggers. So he seems an unlikely candidate to adapt the darkly comic film-noir of the distinctly American Coens. But it was the first film that came to mind.

“I first saw it over 20 years ago at the Cannes Film Festival and it left quite an impression,” he says. “I never went back to watch it but the impression lingered. In the last few years, when nothing grabbed me, I thought, why not try a Chinese version of that film? If I did a reinterpretation, I could speed up the process because I had solid material to work with.

“I wanted to take the original and attempt a Chinese-style interpretation. I wanted to inject aspects of Chinese culture and, in that way, adapt it to a new context. One aspect is the theatrical element that I tried to incorporate. I’m indebted to the Peking Opera for that.”

Still, Zhang found it challenging to adapt a story set in the late 20th-century Texas flatlands to a Chinese setting.

Click here: This interview continues on my website.

Read more: A Woman a Gun and a Noodle Shop, Raise the Red Lantern, House of Flying Daggers, Blood Simple, Zhang Yimou Interview, Cannes Film Festival, Coen Brothers, Hero, Marshall Fine Interview, 2008 Beijing Olympics, Entertainment News

Interview: Michelle Rodriguez on ‘Machete’

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Michelle Rodriguez has literally fought her way to stardom, starting with Karyn Kusama’s boxing drama Girlfight. Rodriguez came away with an Independent Spirit Award for Best Debut Performance and the start of a unique career as one of Hollywood’s action heroines. In the past ten years, Rodriguez has driven with The Fast and the Furious, fought zombies in Resident Evil, rode the waves in Blue Crush, got Lost, and piloted one of James Cameron’s futuristic ships in Avatar.

Rodriguez’s latest role as Luz in Robert Rodriguez’s Machete takes the action star to a whole new level of kicking ass. Deep in the heart of Texas, Luz runs a taco truck that feeds the local day laborers home-style food, comfort, and hope for a better future — as well information about jobs, how to get papers, or even cash in a pinch. Luz’s alter ego is Shé, a revolutionary, gun-totin’ mama who runs an underground network that helps immigrants once they’ve crossed the border into the Texas. Luz ends up being a much-needed friend to Machete (Danny Trejo), a former Federales who escaped a Mexican drug lord by the skin of his teeth and keeps finding himself in increasingly messy situations on the Texan side of the border. He’s got a machete, but Luz has got, well, a lot more than a taco truck on her side.

Rodriguez took some time out of her busy day to talk to Cinematical about self-stereotyping, playing with politics in Machete, and the outer space kind of aliens she’ll be fighting in Battle: Los Angeles.

Continue reading Interview: Michelle Rodriguez on ‘Machete’

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William Bradley: Mad Men Makes the All-Time Television Pantheon and Unspools Another Fine Episode

As if it weren’t clear before, Mad Men has entered not only the current cultural pantheon but also the all-time television pantheon. As always, there be spoilers ahead.

Before we get to Mad Men‘s third straight Emmy Awards win as the best dramatic series and what that means, as well as the details of another fine episode in “Waldorf Stories” and what that may mean, let’s get one thing out of the way right now. We finally know how Don Draper got hired at Sterling Cooper. He didn’t!

How perfectly Don Draperesque is that? But before we return to that, and the rest of the latest episode, let’s look at Mad Men in the pantheon.

Incidentally, you can see all my Mad Men pieces, from this year and last year, here in The Mad Men File.

Mad Men won the award for Best Dramatic Series for the third year in a row at Sunday night’s Emmy Awards at the Nokia Theater in downtown Los Angeles.

Mad Men won its third straight Emmy Award as Best Dramatic Series on television on Sunday night. It wasn’t a surprise, but with a lot of upsets during the ceremony, it wasn’t impossible that it would lose. But even though none of the six nominated actors won, the show won again for the third year in a row for best writing — with creator Matthew Weiner again, and Erin Levy earning the prize for the season 3 finale — as well as for best casting and hairstyling. And Lost simply wasn’t good enough in its final season to knock off Mad Men, especially with Lost‘s rather insipid finale.

So Mad Men, the series that HBO infamously passed on and which finally debuted on a channel, AMC, once reserved for repeated showings of Commando and other such fairly recent, er, semi-classics, won its very deserved third straight award as the finest show on television. Which puts Mad Men one season away — this one, as it happens — from the all-time record of four straight wins.

Only three shows in the history of television drama have won more best series Emmys than Mad Men.

Let’s look at the company Mad Men is in.

The Defenders, described by some as the most socially conscious show in history, won three in a row from 1962 to 1964. Mad Men already paid homage to the show, depicting the controversy around a Defenders episode in which the father and son lawyer team, played by E.G. Marshal and Robert Reed, defended a woman who got an abortion.

The gritty-yet-humanistic police drama Hill Street Blues won four in a row from 1981 to 1984.

The slick but telling L.A. Law won four in a row from 1989 to 1992.

And The West Wing won four in a row from 2000 to 2003.

What about The Sopranos? Well, the show on which Weiner got his big break won twice, for 2004 and 2006, with Lost and 24 winning the award in between. I was a big fan of The Sopranos, but Mad Men is better.

How badly should we feel for the six actors — Jon Hamm, January Jones, Christina Hendricks, Elisabeth Moss, John Slattery and Robert Morse — who garnered Emmy nominations but didn’t come away with the awards? Probably not too bad. Four of them just made the cover of Rolling Stone. (You can guess which four. Sorry “Roger Sterling,” maybe Esquire awaits.) And they are fashion icons the world over now. Well, maybe not Robert Morse. Though his socks ought to be.

As good as Bryan Cranston is in Breaking Bad, I’d love to see Jon Hamm finally end up with an Emmy as best actor. His Don Draper is the center of Mad Men, and he shows a great range, including in the latest episode, “Waldorf Stories.” I expected Julianna Margulies to win best actress for The Good Wife, which is actually a very fine CBS show I’ve seen a few times. Margulies is outstanding in it. (Though Kyra Sedgwick pulled off an upset for a show I haven’t seen.) I halfway expected Christina Hendricks, or perhaps Elisabeth Moss, to win as best supporting actress. But Hendricks, though very potent in her appearances, probably didn’t get enough screen time last season, and the winner in that category, Good Wife‘s Archie Panjabi, is constantly in the middle of the action on that show.

So, “Waldorf Stories.” What more have we learned?

The essential milieu of Mad Men is not all that admirable.

For one thing, that Matthew Weiner is a cheeky fellow. The latest episode, which first aired the night of the Emmy Awards, turns on, yes, an awards show. In which Don Draper is up for a big award. Which he wins.

It’s the Clio Awards (sort of), the premier awards in advertising. In 1965, the Clios are staged as a long boozy affair at the Waldorf Astoria. The Clios I was at some years ago were in Miami, and it was decidedly not an afternoon event.

Before they get to the awards show, in a sequence highlighting the show’s more comedic focus, Don and Peggy Olsen interview an aspiring copywriter recommended by Roger Sterling. Or, more accurately, by Mrs. Roger Sterling, the beauteous young Jane Siegel Sterling, Don’s former secretary, whose affair with Roger caused the sale of the original Sterling Cooper to the Brit conglomerate that set all the professional changes into motion.

The young and very diminutive Danny Siegel — he’s Jane’s cousin, and he’s played by a fellow that I could swear was one of the would-be super-villain “Nerds of Doom” on Buffy the Vampire Slayer — has a hilarious portfolio consisting of other people’s work that he “admires” and precisely one, very hackneyed, idea, executed ad (so to speak) infinitum. Fill-in-the-blank product is “the cure for the common fill-in-the-blank.”

Afterwards, Peggy says she’s relieved to meet someone worse than she is. “Don’t get used to it,” Don tells her. Nice.

Don’s in high gear as we open, since he’s the toast of the industry and up for a major award — actually the Clios give out a great many awards — and continues as he tells Roger that he admires the fine prank of sending “the kid” to him. As if Roger’s very smart young wife is going to let her cousin go unhired.

All this makes Roger, who is hilariously working on his memoirs but not recalling all that much, think back to how he met Don in the first place. Don, as we’ve previously established, was a fur salesman, who also did the company’s ads. (We see the young, and still future, Betty Draper in one of the ads.) Roger has stopped in the shop to buy a “getting-to-know-you” fur for Joan Holloway, with whom he is embarking on what becomes a long affair.

Don is not at all the smooth, urbane character we’re used to. He’s more like a big, gawky, very eager Labrador puppy. Roger wants no part of him and is irritated when he finds that Don has placed his advertising portfolio in the box with Joan’s fur, a junior varsity move.

I think what we often forget about Don Draper, who is really Dick Whitman, is that while he successfully stole the identity of his dead Army lieutenant in the Korean War, and the Purple Heart that goes along with it (which Dick himself actually rates, oddly enough), he didn’t actually know much of anything even though he returned from Korea with the status of a decorated former Army officer. He certainly didn’t know his dead lieutenant’s profession, that of engineer. That’s a gig that’s hard to BS your way through. So he sold used cars, and went to night school, and worked his way to selling furs and making some local ads on the side.

In the present day, with Peggy getting no recognition for helping conceive the Glo-Coat ad that’s up for the award, Don, Roger, Joan, and Pete Campbell head to the Waldorf Astoria for the awards. In thinking about his memoirs, Roger has decided that recruiting Don is one of his big accomplishments. Unfortunately, they don’t give awards for that.

Following his big Clio win, Don Draper evidently came up with some better lines than these in the latest episode. Too bad about that blackout drinking.

Don, secretly holding hands with Joan, who is also secretly holding hands with Roger, under the table, wins, naturally. After planting a serious kiss on Joan, he collects his award. Which he, also naturally, promptly misplaces as he launches into what can alternately be described as a two-day bacchanal, bender, or spree. After a hilariously misbegotten pitch session.

Before discussing that, let’s deal with Don and Joan. In a sense, they are the most obvious potential couple on the show. They’re both great-looking, both very smart, both worldly, both very good in the advertising business, with complementary skills. In fact, in today’s world, the two of them could easily start their own ad agency.

But we’ve never seen even a hint of them hooking up, aside from the very meaningful looks they exchanged toward the end of last season’s “Guy Walks Into An Advertising Agency” episode. Could they become a major item? Perhaps they already have been. In any event, we get no more of that the rest of this episode.

Instead we get a boozily celebratory Don striking out again at the Waldorf bar that night with Dr. Faye, the fetchingly manipulative consulting psychologist for the agency. But only after scoring on a pitch back at the agency.

Cereal company execs running late had canceled on the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce crew prior to the Clios, but showed up at the agency after the awards show. Feeling invincible after his Clio win, after Roger does a victory lap around the conference room, Don decides to go ahead with the pitch even though he’s several sheets to the wind.

We’ve seen a pensive, heartfelt Don Draper pitch before. We’ve seen an eerily-in-command Don Draper pitch before. We’ve even seen a desperate Don Draper pitch before, with nothing going into the meeting. In the pilot episode, no less. But we’ve never seen an overconfident, drunk Don Draper pitch before.

It actually goes rather well, which is not surprising, since Don has presence, nobody minds that he’s been drinking since he’s just won a big award, and he’s well-prepared. Just one problem. The client thinks the idea is too intellectual.

So Don has to improvise. Desperately, hilariously, throwing half-baked one-liners off the top of his head. Finally he scores with… “Life, the cure for the common breakfast.” Hey, that sounds familiar. Actually, it works fine. (In real life, slogans are overrated anyway. Just make sure it’s not bad.)

Roger Sterling discusses the philosophy of drinking.

With this late afternoon victory, Don is back to the bar at the Waldorf. After Dr. Faye, who’s warming to Don but doesn’t want to succumb to his drunken version, sends him on his way, Don finds that his blooming celebrity status is catnip to another Clio winner, a smart brunette. Have we noticed yet that Don does best with brunettes?

Presumably Don doesn’t get slapped around by her, as we saw with his call girl pal in the season opener. Somewhere over the thoroughly lubricated next 36 hours, he picks up at least one other woman, the blonde he wakes up with only to field a call from an enraged blonde, the one named Betty.

He’s forgotten all about picking up the kids! Oops. So much for domestic Don. At weekend’s end, yet another woman arrives at Don’s man cave in the Village. This time it’s Peggy, who’s been rather put upon by Don’s snubs and demands that she work with the agency’s arrogant new jackass art director. She’s not there to continue his revelries, but to tell him his successful pitch with the cereal execs was actually from Jane Siegel Sterling’s nerdy cousin.

Naturally, he has to be hired now. (Of course, he always had to be hired, or Roger’s life would have become markedly less pleasant.)

The saving grace at the start of the new week for Don, aside from having recovered some of his mojo with women? Roger has fetched his Clio trophy from the Waldorf bar. All he wants is some thanks for having hired Don at the old Sterling Coo in the first place.

He doesn’t exactly get it, though he appears to think he does. Nor should he, because as we see in a flashback, Roger never actually hired Don.

Friendly, and very persistent, young Labrador pup Don had cajoled Roger into having morning drinks with him, leading to not much more than functional blackout conviviality for the older man. The next workday, there is Don greeting him in the Sterling Cooper lobby. After Navy vet Roger asks Don to leave him alone, Don informs him that Roger hired him. “You said, ‘Welcome aboard.'”

As the elevator door closes on Don and Roger, with Don making his first ascent to Sterling Cooper, Don has the greatest little grin. He pulled it off! Sadly, the closing song is not “Anchors Aweigh.”

In our B and C stories …

Peggy, left out of the Clio Awards, is further affronted by Don with his instruction to work with the new art director, having to hole up in a hotel room with him to brainstorm the Vick’s consumer cough products line. This character, who is very excited about having made a TV ad for President Lyndon Johnson’s campaign that wasn’t actually used, is one of the biggest male jerks on the show, and that’s a stiff competition. Too stiff for him, as it turns out, with Peggy calling his bluff about her supposed prudery by insisting they work in the buff together. With hotshot, who turns out to have no ideas, getting an errant stiffy, to complete the punning, Peggy wins the stare down. As if there was any doubt.

I think it’s getting to be about time to bring back Sal Romano.

Meanwhile, the old Sterling Coo gang starts reassembling, with Kenny Cosgrove rejoining the agency, bringing some big-time clients with him. Pete Campbell, always at least a little insecure, is not pleased about this, but he lays down the law to Ken, noting that he is a partner and Ken is not.

So where are we? Don is even bigger than before, having won a prestigious award to go with his big press clippings. He’s rediscovered his sexual mojo with women he doesn’t have to pay. The agency again gains big new clients. Roger mis-remembers his great coup of doing something he never did, i.e., hire the great Don Draper.

Is this still the TV programming most frequently featured in the Don Draper household?

On the other hand, Don, like a great many people with acclaim and fame thrust upon them — Hollywood, anyone? — reacts by nearly drowning himself in a sea of alcohol. He’s again blown off his kids, which again convinces me that he has them in the first place mainly because he thought he should. And he’s ripped off a nonentity for a winning pitch, without even realizing it.

Don Draper is getting to an age where all this drinking really catches up with you. We’ve seen him exercise exactly once on this show. (He did 15 push-ups, which he faked to be 100 as Betty walked into their bedroom.) He smokes like a chimney. He doesn’t eat at all healthily. Clearly, he’s heading for Roger Sterling territory if he doesn’t change. Blackout drinking, multiple heart attacks, maybe even an embarrassing episode in front of influential people. (Who can forget Don goading Roger into a long lunch of oysters and martinis before meeting with Richard Nixon’s campaign leadership, and that long hike up the stairs with the elevator conveniently “out of order?”)

How bad off is Don now with the drinking? Well, we’ll know more if he has a bad experience in an episode not set around a holiday or an awards show.

The bigger question right now, on the heels of Mad Men winning a nearly unmatched third straight Emmy Award as television’s best show, is how good is this season?

We’re nearly halfway through the season, and I’m finding it to be more entertaining than the comparable run last season. But perhaps not as consequential.

It’s easy to forget, given the spectacular final three episodes of Season 3, that the first part of the season had some heavy going. All the family set-up material had a certain degree of tedium. Betty Draper, and you have to admire January Jones for playing the role without trying little tricks to make the character more charming, turned into quite a pill in a number of episodes last season. Sidelining the Joan Holloway and Roger Sterling characters for much of the season robbed the show of much of its zest. Yet moving all the pieces into position, as a novelist would do, payed off in spectacular fashion down the stretch.

The first part of this season, especially with all the humor, is more pleasant to watch than the first part of last season, which I actually did just watch again. But until we know where we’re going this season, I’m not sure how consequential it will all turn out to be.

Can Mad Men repeat next year with a record-tying fourth straight Emmy win? Sure. The biggest threat to the streak was probably this year, with the final season of Lost. Will it repeat? We’ll have a much better idea in October.

You can check things during the day on my site, New West Notes …

Read more: Christina Hendricks, Robert Morse, Jon Hamm, The Defenders, Elisabeth Moss, Matthew Weiner, Emmy Awards, Hill Street Blues, Don Draper, January Jones, John Slattery, Mad Men, The West Wing, The Sopranos, Mad Men Emmys, Mad Men Emmy Awards, Lost, Entertainment News