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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Which era would you like to see as a setting for a nostalgic soap opera or drama (à la ‘Mad Men’)?

The influence of Mad Men is spreading. Hoping to cash in on the craze for the 1960s — and, we can guess, missing everything that makes Mad Men special — NBC this autumn debuts The Playboy Club, and ABC is running with Pan Am. From NBC’s fall preview:

It’s the early ’60s, and the legendary Playboy Club in Chicago is the door to all your fantasies… and the key is the most sought-after status symbol of its time.

Step inside the seductive world of the Bunny, the epitome of beauty and service, and rub shoulders with the decade’s biggest mobsters, politicos and entertainers (like Tina Turner and Sammy Davis, Jr.) With all these larger than life ambitions, there are even greater secrets. Like when innocent new Bunny Maureen – who wants to take the world by storm – accidentally kills one of the Windy City’s most powerful mafia bosses… and the only person capable of covering it up and protecting her is Nick Dalton, a man who once worked for the mob but is about to run for district attorney. Bunny Alice is married but hiding an explosive personal life while Bunny Janie is running from a past that threatens to catch up with her. It seems everyone has a secret – none more so than Maureen, who may not even be the innocent orphan she appears to be. Thank goodness Hef’s Playboy Mansion is open after hours for a little R&R… and burying your past.

Obviously the “your fantasies” applies only to powerful hetero men who enjoy having women “service” them. (See The Globe and Mail for a hilarious takedown of Club.)

From ABC’s official site for Pan Am:

Passion, jealousy and espionage… They do it all – and they do it at 30,000 feet. The style of the 1960s, the energy and excitement of the Jet Age and a drama full of sexy entanglements deliciously mesh in this thrilling and highly-original new series.

In this modern world, air travel represents the height of luxury and Pan Am is the biggest name in the business. The planes are glamorous, the pilots are rock stars and the stewardesses are the most desirable women in the world. Not only are these flyboys and girls young and good looking, but to represent Pan Am they also have to be educated, cultured and refined. They’re trained to handle everything from in-air emergencies to unwanted advances – all without rumpling their pristine uniforms or mussing their hair. There’s Dean (Mike Vogel) – a cocky, charismatic and ambitious new pilot – the first of a new breed not trained in the war. On the sly against company policy, he’s dating Bridget, a stunning beauty with a mysterious past. A rebellious bohemian, Maggie (Christina Ricci) turns into a buttoned up professional for work so she can see the world. Rounding out the crew are flirtatious Colette (Karine Vanasse), the adventurous Kate (Kelli Garner) and, finally, Laura (Margot Robbie) – Kate’s beauty queen younger sister, a runaway bride, who recently fled a life of domestic boredom to take to the skies.

I certainly hope that when I’m flying, sexy entanglements are not going on in the cockpit.

Currently, too, the BBC has The Hour, which had been positioned as a response to Mad Men (it really isn’t), set in a 1950s TV studio. From the BBC:

Romola Garai, Dominic West and Ben Whishaw star in The Hour, a thrilling six-part drama which takes viewers behind the scenes of the launch of a topical news programme in London 1956, written and created by Bafta award-winning Abi Morgan.

With a highly competitive, sharp-witted and passionate love triangle at the heart of the series, it’s through the lives of enigmatic Bel and her rivals, Freddie and Hector, that viewers will witness the decade on the threshold of change – from the ruthless sexual politics behind the polite social façade of the Fifties to the revelations that redefined the world for a new generation.

We’ll undoubtedly see even more Mad Men copycats over the next few years. But what other eras would be suitable for a nostalgic drama? I’d love to see a serious drama set during World War II. A sprawling soap set, say, during the Blitz in London could be full of intrigue, danger, and romance as people live life on the edge, not knowing whether they’ll be alive tomorrow. From soldiers and firemen to shopgirls and nurses, there’s room for all sorts of character from every walk of life (and from both sides of the Atlantic) and lots of potential for action and explosions. How could it miss?

Which era would you like to see as a setting for a nostalgic soap opera or drama (à la Mad Men)?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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