Sterling Cooper Wenger Ferguson: the welcome return of the Premiership’s Mad Men

Posted on September 11, 2010

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The starting line-up for season four of Mad Men

Ten days may be a long time in politics but it’s an infinitely longer time in the politics of international football.

As the end of this week culminates in the festivals of Eid al-Fitr and Rosh Hashana, England devotees are celebrating Fabio Capello’s decision to step down from the high altar of their national team. Expected following the abortive pilgrimage to South Africa, the Football Association will embark on the now triennial quest for a new manager. All this without saying anything of miscreant false prophet Wayne Rooney. Oh, and there were a few matches that went on too.

Such is the nature of the international footballing beast. Its disjointed narrative is played out in fits and starts between summers, so it’s no wonder that the script writers try and pack in as much as they can. Think Eastenders on speed: merciful for its brevity and paradoxically, pretty boring too.

The return of the Premier League is a shot in the arm as welcome as the new season of hit US show Mad Men on our screens this week. Where the qualifying stages for international tournaments are a rushed watch that provide only a fleeting sense of triumph/despair, the acting out of the domestic fixture list is more befitting of Matthew Weiner’s surprising TV phenomena. (And when I mean Mad Men I’m not talking about the likes of Joey Barton either.)

Centred on the multifarious happenings of a ’60’s Madison Avenue advertising agency, Mad Men is all about the long game. It’s drama of course, but not as we know it. There are many weeks when nothing seems to happen at all. A slow-burning catharsis,  you’re left with the distinct impression that even when you switch off the television it all carries on regardless.

Every 45 min slot hops serenely from the familiar haunts of the office to the home, the riding club, liquor bar, and inevitably, hotel suite. The characters experience disappointment and success, but more often it’s all the subtle gradations in-between. Life, like football, is rarely clear-cut.

The show is structured to allow you to dip in and out of it at will for, ostensibly, it’s all, and always, the same. February is played out no differently from September – cast, crew, set, and script –  a static veneer which masks the reality of constant change.  In truth, 1961 is as far removed from 1963 as say 08/09 was from 06/07. Each season passes with expected regularity profound only for the anti-climax of both curtain-raiser and crescendo. Next year will be the same. It’s a passive form of intensity that leaves you hopelessly hooked.

The 10 days of international Eastenders is the equivalent of 10 months in premiership Mad Men, and is all the better for it. Weekly high-drama has returned to small-screen and stadium; someone pass me the remote.

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