Robert Smith: Armchair Critic

Stuck in scheduling hell, our Armchair Critic turns to the US and the fourth season of Mad Men.

Bishop Draper Mad Men Seinfeld Sheen Smith TV

I try and watch television programmes in the way that God intended as much as possible. That is on an actual television, and not through an illegal South East Asian streaming service. The problem with watching TV in this law abiding manner though is that it leaves you at the mercy of the schedules. As much as you may want CBeebies to show Cannibal Holocaust on a Monday morning, it’s never likely to happen.

For the most part I live happily within the constraints of the schedule. After all, flicking from channel to channel to find something worth watching provides a certain sense of purpose to lazy underachievers like myself. While channel hopping the other day, however, I discovered to my horror that two entirely different episodes of US shitcom Two and a Half Men were playing simultaneously on two entirely different networks. I started flicking between the channels rapidly, disgusted yet transfixed by the only thing worse than Charlie Sheen: two Charlie Sheens.

After five minutes of subjecting myself to this improvised Ludovico technique I needed rescuing. I needed proof that America could produce intelligent yet accessible situation comedy. Unfortunately, Seinfeld is not currently being syndicated on any UK television channel. With a flick of MegaVideo, however, I was able to create my own dream television schedule and fill my day with all the Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer a man could wish for. If only now there was a website that would erase away the flickering images of the doppel-Sheen burnt into my psyche.

The internet is also an excellent way of circumventing the maddening wait for American TV to be broadcast on this side of the Atlantic. Whereas Sky are usually willing to stump up the extra and minimise this delay, the Beeb have a rather more laid back approach. The fourth season of Mad Men started in America on Saturday but it will be another six months until it is shown over here. As you probably know six months is the average gestation period of a baboon; far too long to wait for the TV equivalent of crack cocaine. It was time to venture once more onto the internet.

For those who haven’t seen the first three series of Mad Men, stop reading and start watching now. You’ll thank me later trust me. If you’re one of those lucky, lucky people who have, however, read on. Series four picks up eleven months after the end of series three. Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is a scrappy young upstart pretending to clients they have two floors instead of one. More importantly Don is divorced and living the bachelor lifestyle. For Don Draper the bachelor lifestyle translates to encouraging hookers to slap him mid-coitus.

The Draper heavy first episode was unsurprisingly fantastic. Titled ‘Public Relations’ the episode chronicles Don’s realisation that he must market himself as well as the product, combined with a sub-plot in which Peggy and Pete experiment with an Edward Bernaysian PR stunt. The episode begins with the question ‘Who is Don Draper?’ and is bookended by two magazine interviews with the man himself giving two very different answers. Amidst all this there were classic Mad Men flourishes. Sterling’s one liners were as excellent as ever (on the one-legged magazine reporter: ‘They’re so cheap they can’t even afford a whole reporter.’) and he was equally, though unintentionally, funny in his suggestion that Don try the cutting edge dish Chicken Kiev . The only thing I was sad to see was that Harry Crane had abandoned his trademark bow-tie, a clear sign that the times-they-are-a-changin’.

So what of the scheduled nonsense this week? The biggest disappointment of the week for me was John Bishop’s Britain. Bishop is unreservedly old-school in his comedy stylings and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. He’ll never be a trendy comedian, but there are enough of those around already.

Bishop is fantastic at telling anecdotes about the crushing monotony of married life and the series opener, focusing on love and marriage, should have been perfect for him. Indeed when Bishop was in full flow things were good. Unfortunately, however, the show was peppered with mawkish interviews with celebrities you’ve always hated and members of the public you instantly hate. These clips were so bare of anything resembling humour it would have been easier for Bishop to make humorous observations about file footage of decaying mushrooms. I certainly won’t be tuning in again. Unless, of course, I’ve reached the 72 minute usage limit on MegaVideo and Two and a Half Men is on every other channel.