A few years ago AMC announced the scheduled end dates for two of their flagship TV shows; Mad Men and Breaking Bad. At that time they started work on their next round of hopefully great dramas. True they did still have The Walking Dead as a monster hit, and Hell on Wheels was picking up steam… I don’t know enough about the types of trains they use on the show to know if that was a pun or not. Anyways, they also were working on a pair of spin offs, one of which we already know is excellent, but they still needed some new blood.
It started with Low Winter Sun which was universally hated, which I attribute more to an antihero fatigue than an actual reflection on the show itself. Two other shows were launched, Turn and Halt and Catch Fire. I only watched half of the first episode of Turn, but I assume it is perfectly fine. Halt and Catch Fire on the other hand was one of my favorite new shows last year.
I am a computer nerd, and although I was just a little kid when most of the show takes place, I do remember a lot of the technology that is featured in the show. I had a commodore 64. I remember using modems. I remember how pants shittingly game changing the original Nintendo was. I knew how to use DOS. I did tons of Cocaine as I tried to solve over heating issues on the portable CPU I was designing. Ok Maybe not that last one.
It seems like more and more people are warming up to season two of the show, and as I have been watching it I came to a possibly startling, partially accurate revelation. This show is basically just an amalgamation of Mad Men and Breaking Bad.
Setting: 60’s NYC Advertising = 80’s Silicon Prarie
Let’s start with some of the obvious parallels. It’s a show set in the not too distant past like Mad Men where the setting is almost a character in and of itself. Like Mad Men a big part of the driving force of the plot is the characters trying to make their business successful. Ok maybe you could draw those parallels with a lot of shows but what about this. In both Mad Men and HaCF (that’s how I am going to abbreviate it from here on out) they spend a lot of time scratching and clawing to make their business succeed and then after they do, they get bought out, and then everyone jumps ship and starts a new company where they have to scratch and claw again.
Let’s go a little deeper. In Mad Men the industry they are in, advertising, is dominated by old white men. In HaCF we once again have a good old boy’s club that is adjusting to the new reality of having women entering a male dominated environment. There’s … ok, maybe I thought I had more for this category than I did.
Joe MacMillian = Don Draper
Now let’s look at the characters. Mad Men’s leading man was a handsome smooth talker whose arrogance was forgiven because he delivered when it counted. Want more? Both Don Draper and Joe MacMillan have a past they are trying to keep from the public eye. Don isn’t actually Don Draper, and Joe has a bunch of scars on his body that he never truthfully explains. Not enough for you? Both characters sabotage their success. Don with drinking and crying in front of the fine folks at Hershey’s Chocolate. Joe with setting a truck full of PCs on fire. Both characters make business deals without any approval of anyone before hand. They both would rather ask for forgiveness than seek permission.
Gordon Clark = Walter White
Ok, maybe we won’t ever get the total transformation from Mr. Rogers into Scarface like we had in BB, but Gordon Clark is the brilliant egg head who is under valued despite creating something innovative in the past. Walter White got a Nobel for whatever the hell he did with Grey Mater, and Gordon had his musical computer contraption that he buried in the back yard or something. Look they never explicitly state the back story in either of these cases, but that’s a good thing. The mystery is way more satisfying than the truth could ever be.
Seems like kind of a weak comparison until you add in some additional details. Both Walter and Gordon have hot wives. Both wives kind of have sexual tension with their boss or former Boss. Walter and Gordon both turn to their wives to help them with their particular area of expertise. With Skyler it was accounting/money laundering. with Donna it is the layout of the circuit board in season 1. Both Gordon and Walter get into drugs in the early seasons. Gordon does some coke for a few episodes in season 2, mostly as a misdirect, and Walter smokes pot once in season 1.
Still doesn’t seem like that big of a deal right. I would agree with you until the latest bombshell hit the Clark family in the past few episodes of HaCF. Gordon Clark, just like Walter White, has a debilitating disease that will probably kill him that was possibly caused by the work he had done over the years (Gordon with soldering and circuit boards, and Walter with chemicals). Boom!!!!! that is parallel as fuck now. Oh, Gordon and Walter both adjust their facial hair as a way of changing up their attitude towards life. So there is that too.
Seems like I have hit the major points and am in the home stretch of proving my thesis. But lets look at a few more characters.
Donna Clark = Joan Holloway
Are both super hot readheads? Check. Did both have unplanned pregnancies and go to an abortion clinic? yes.. although with different results. Are both initially under appreciated, taken for granted, but end up forming their own business? Yes.. although Donna does it in season 2 with mutiny and Joan waits till the end of the series in mad men. Do both have close minded mothers that think they are passive aggressive but too snarky to pull it off and in general just stuck in a bygone era’s mindset? yep. Are both super hot read heads? Yes. A thousand times yes.
Cameron = Jesse Pinkman
Ok, I might be stretching things here a little bit, but I think there is still some good stuff. While Cameron isn’t a partner to Gordon the way Jesse was to Walter, they do have a similar initial dynamic where Gordon is straight laced and doesn’t take Cameron seriously because of her attitude which is non conformist to say the least. Like Jesse Cameron has some loyal yet unmotivated friends/colleagues/business partners who kind of unintentionally take advantage of her as she tries to make something more of herself. Like Jesse she passes up on money when there is principle at stake. Granted Cameron never drove around tossing stacks of cash onto people’s lawns. She did turn down 5 mil this past episode though.
Both Jesse and Cameron let their emotions get the better of them, and have no problem standing up to authority or those in positions of power when the time is right.. or when it isn’t right actually. Both are constantly under dressed. Both are constantly in a new relationship that adversely affects their business life. Both have short yet shaggy un combed hair in the first two seasons of the show. Ok that last one is kind of a reach, but i think I still made my point.
John Boswoth = Roger Sterling
ughhhhhh no. This one doesn’t really work. I guess you could maybe draw a parellel that they are both salesmen, and have estranged wives, and kids that get married during the show, and are used at times for comedic relief, and are the ones to come through in a pinch when you might not have expected it, and can be kind of a mentor or voice of wisdom at times despite not having the classical appearance of that type of person, and also are kind of the boss even though there is a bigger richer boss above him. Still those are pretty broad stokes, so lets give HaCF a few more seasons before we decide who he really should be compared to if anyone.
Debbie = Meredith
Ok, so Debbie hasn’t appeared in season 2 yet I don’t think, and odds are good we wont ever see her again, but she does have the almost cliche air head secretary role down pat similar to Meredith. Granted Meredith was a favorite of just about everyone, and even those she was dumb as a bag of rocks, she more than compensated with her up beat personality, never say die attitude, and total devotion to her boss. It should also be noted that she wasn’t stupid dumb where you would tell her to do something and she wouldn’t understand and just ignore it. Meredith would either just flat out say she doesn’t understand in a cheerful voice and ask for more simplistic directions or she would think she understands and then do something hilarious like actually translate one of Roger’s memos into pig latin. Debbie didn’t have enough time to shine, but in her few brief moments she was like Meredith Lite. Like a Diet Meredith if that makes sense.
If I am looking at it on balance it looks like the show is more Mad Men than Breaking Bad. Mad Men was all about the relationships between the characters with the goals of their job nudging them along. In both shows, if they fail to reach their goal at their job, whether it be landing a new account with a great pitch, or build a new piece of revolutionary technology, nothing is life or death. There is no good and evil at play here like there was in Breaking Bad. Can that change? Maybe, but I don’t see how at least not on a large scale.
Compared to Mad Men HaCF might wade into more of the criminal element in certain story lines (such as with stolen computer parts, or the gay programmer getting jumped) but at no point do I think it will feature a shoot out or blown up nursing homes. The violence and death will never even come close to Breaking Bad levels unless there is some kind of cultural event that takes place around them. I think they are about a decade away from the Branch Davidians siege in Waco, and I don’t know of any other major events in Texas that could impact the show like that.
Still, I think all of these comparisons might not be fair. It really is it’s own show. Gordon isn’t as brilliant as Walter but he will never turn evil and put his life before that of children. Jesse, while more capable and gifted than he first appears, will never be as brilliant as Cameron. Joe is more slick and transparent than Don, but he seems to retain more respect in difficult times for those around him and is much more respectful of women. The stakes aren’t as high as they were in Breaking Bad, but unlike Mad Men you still feel like everything the character sin HaCF have worked to build may crumble to dust if the wrong domino falls.
Maybe the parallels with Breaking Bad and Mad Men aren’t a result of trying to imitate a great product, but instead the natural result of the creation of a great product.