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'Mad Men' isn't a predictable hit

Rick Bentley
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

The odds of AMC's "Mad Men" becoming a hit were about the same as Adam Carolla winning "Dancing With the Stars."

The cable series about the advertising world in the early '60s appears on a channel formerly known only for showing old movies. It is set in a period when sexual harassment was an art form, not an infraction. Most of the cast members are so unknown that a TMZ crew would not hassle them at the airport. The clothing is dated, and the air is filled with cigarette smoke.

Despite all that, the series has earned high praise from television critics. The Television Critics Association gave it three of its top awards, including naming it the best show on television. It also earned 16 Emmy nominations. Only the HBO miniseries "John Adams," with 23, and the NBC comedy "30 Rock," with 17, got more Emmy nods.

Riding on this wave of critical support, the second season of "Mad Men" began Sunday. Needless to say, the cast is slightly overwhelmed by the reaction to the first year.

"It's phenomenal," says Jon Hamm, who plays the series' central figure, Don Draper. "I think I speak for everybody when I say it remains kind of fun to go to work. It has been that since the pilot.

"So in many ways, speaking personally, I've been so proud of this thing from the beginning that to have it sort of validated and vindicated in the greater sort of world of television criticism and the culture is amazing."

For those of you not familiar with the show, Draper is a Madison Avenue whiz kid. While he is the darling of the ad agency, there is a darker side. He has secrets. These are complicated by a wife (January Jones) who seems to be teetering on the edge of emotional collapse.

The advertising agency is a hotbed of affairs. And if you listen to the suited ad executives, every secretary in the place is named either Hon or Babe.

Elisabeth Moss, who plays the feisty Peggy Olson, calls the relationships in that time period a huge part of the show.

And it isn't just the sexual atmosphere of the office. If you have only three martinis at lunch, you are a wimp. It seems like a race to see whether lung cancer or liver damage will be the leading killer.

All of these conflicts are set up by series creator Matthew Weiner's decision to set the show in the early '60s. But Weiner says the gap really isn't that large.

"I think it's very much like right now," he says. "I felt very much that 1960 was very much like last year. And we'll see how the election goes. And you start looking at the culture and what we are interested in and what mood it is right now, and I think you will see a lot of overlap."

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

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TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

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The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

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Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

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If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

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