‘Mad Men’ keeps its edgy edge

[22 January 2009]

By Rick Kushman

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

We’re starting right off with good news. Matthew Weiner, creator and driving force behind AMC’s Emmy-winning “Mad Men,” has signed a deal to continue writing and producing the stellar show.

The word came early this week, and that’s happy tidings for fans of one of the most original and addicting shows in recent years. Weiner is one of the good guys in Hollywood, and AMC and producing partner Lionsgate are among the more respected TV and studio entities, but negotiations were touchy at times, according to reports.

“Mad Men,” set amid the doings on Madison Avenue in the early 1960s, is a masterpiece of intriguing characters, nostalgia, nuanced acting and muscular writing.

It had been scheduled to start its third season in the summer, with or without Weiner, but it’s hard to imagine the series working as well without him.

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NBC kicks off a two-night miniseries Sunday that you just wish was better. It’s called “The Last Templar” (at 9 p.m., concluding Monday at 9) and is supposed to be a cross between “National Treasure” and “The Da Vinci Code.”

It’s not horrible, at least not at first. It starts with a couple good moments and the occasional bit of wit. Stars Mira Sorvino (as the relentless and plucky archaeologist, Tess) and Scott Foley (as the contained but steadfast FBI agent, Sean) provide as much charm as they can, considering the material.

But mostly it’s too slow and too stale, then toward the end turns totally silly in a bad way. The film has enough plot for a two-hour movie, but it got stretched to two nights to be an “event,” and you can see the hamburger helper throughout the thing.

Another problem is that we’ve been here before. Free-swinging archaeologists, unimaginable treasures, ruthless bad guys, ties to early religion, the debate between faith and science. They’re so chronic in movie plots, you almost forget that “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was wildly original at the time.

TNT’s slightly goofy series of films about “The Librarian” is how you handle that overload. Don’t take it seriously. Play it a bit goofy. “The Last Templar” should have winked to viewers - and it almost does early on - but instead turns way too severe while keeping the action somewhere between bland and ridiculous.

It starts with good pacing and some spunk. Four horsemen, dressed as Templar Knights - an order that defended Christianity in the Middle Ages - storm a society event at a New York museum and steal valuable artifacts, including a device that, of course, may be the key to the lost and mysterious Templar treasure.

So we’re off on global adventure, with Tess and Sean teaming reluctantly after some bickering. Then things sloooooww down, start to lose logical progress, turn increasingly preposterous and, by the last half-hour, make the movie feel like it was written by fourth-graders. No offense, kids. When it’s over, you’ll be embarrassed for them all.

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With Jay Leno moving into NBC’s 10 p.m. slot every weekday next fall, the rest of NBC’s late-night lineup has become second-string news.

For what it’s worth, NBC announced last week that the reliably funny Conan O’Brien will step away from his current 12:35 a.m. gig on the “Late Night Show with Conan O’Brien” on Feb. 20. And Jimmy Fallon will start up on “Late Night” beginning March 2.

NBC has already said O’Brien takes over the 11:30 p.m. slot and “The Tonight Show” on June 1, after Leno ends his run May 29. Just in case you’re marking calendars.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/69426-mad-men-keeps-its-edgy-edge/