Fri. Mar 31st, 2023
Stick with us, the case for sci-fi is higher quality than this Photoshop job.

Stick with us, the case for sci-fi is higher quality than this Photoshop job.

Welcome to The Multiverse, a new section where you’ll find Ars’ explorations and meditations on the world of science fiction. The Multiverse covers things we love, the things we hate, and the things we don’t yet understand from new and old source material. Send questions, tips, or say hello to The Multiverse writers at

WARNING: This article contains minor spoilers throughout.

It’s an annual springtime tradition similar to baseball opening day and the grill’s first burger. Every year around May, sci-fi fans brace themselves for a cancellation kill-fest that further dwindles the genre’s few mainstream TV offerings. In 2014, NBC cut ties with Revolution and those of JJ Abrams and Alfonso Cuarón To believe. CBS shut down Intelligence. FOX even kept trolling it Glowworm fans by canceling the network’s latest sci-fi attempt, almost human, after one season. Add to that the inevitable end of some long-running SyFy staples (goodbye Department store 13), and it’s hard to know where to go for a sci-fi fix in today’s TV landscape.

This task only gets harder as arguably the best current sci-fi series continues to disguise itself as an extremely stylish, prestigious period cable drama. But after the last half-season has brought us all seven episodes not to consider the show as a whole, it’s time to think again: Is Crazy men science fiction?

It’s a question that has been alluded to after several plot points in the show. A deceased secretary was hailed as an astronaut during an episode called “To The Moon”. Copywriter Michael Ginsberg once referred to himself as an alien, and that sparked thoughts about the show’s many “others,” from Megan Draper to Lane Pryce. On several occasions beyond that couple, Crazy men has even made direct reference to sci-fi. Ken Cosgrove wrote sci-shorts under a pseudonym; Paul Kinsey wrote one Star Trek spec script on race relations; Peggy Olsen once declared her love for universe magazine; Megan Draper auditioned for Dark shadowsand her agent named Rod Serling.

But the question of whether a show is truly sci-fi has to start with content beyond surface reference. Of Crazy men, look no further than the main character. Don Draper largely fits the profile of an old sci-fi trope, the human alien. At a basic level, this archetype focuses on someone with other worldly abilities (and often similar odd eccentricities, weaknesses, and habits) resembling or assuming the identity of a human in order to assimilate into Earth culture. “Human alien” by this definition can include anyone from Dr. Who to the “people” of the Men in Black monitor, even Superman (who happens to be a popular Jon Hamm casting wish from the internet).

Let’s get the easy things off the alien checklist out of the way. Draper doesn’t fit into this strange world around him. His appearance is slightly off (especially in California during later seasons – and is this okay?). His worldview is unconventional (see his tendency to take the right side of history on all social issues, at least initially). And while he has weaknesses, the problems lie in areas where others don’t seem to suffer – primarily an unrelenting inability to relate to others (be it loved ones, family, friends) and an inability to remain content.

But the real reason for Draper as an alien comes from his powers. The Draper origin story began when the frail and broken Dick Whitman “died” in the war, an experience aptly described in numerous other places as a journey to another planet. Back to Earth – for Crazy men, that’s New York – came Don Draper. And from the start, Draper showed a superhuman ability to connect with people. It’s not ESP per se, but he understands humanity and can elicit emotional responses from people, unlike any other character on the show.

Exhibit A for Inhuman Draper powers.

In the course of Crazy men seven seasons, Draper used his advantage largely for good. Crazy men has played with a popular sci-fi plot in this regard: humans need aliens (Dr. Who is another good example, but John Carter or even something like the Harry Potter series may qualify). Draper’s greatest skill has saved his colleagues from destruction (professional irrelevance) time and time again – securing a new persona for his agency by tapping into the public psyche with cigarettes; earn an opportunity to pitch car companies and thereby grow through a merger; and recently did the same with a national fast food customer.

But Peggy Olsen delivered that pitch. And she didn’t come up with the idea?” Yes, but Peggy is your symbolic lone human who can relate to the alien. She’s Elliot to Draper’s ET. Peggy can be elevated by this special relationship (if she was Roger Sterling’s secretary first, will she be noticed and eventually promoted?) or directly empowered (see the Burger Chef pitch), but the symbiosis can also be detrimental. That drawback is largely explored in season six, as Draper and Peggy are largely divorced. In just the darkest of many instances over the course of the series, Draper berates Peggy during that season after learning she is leaving and is unable to convince her otherwise. “Let’s pretend I’m not responsible for all the good that’s happened to you, and tell me the number and I’ll beat it, he spat. Post-divorce, again like Elliot and E.T., her suffering seems to mimic his while they are apart – they are both alone in a relationship sense and extremely dissatisfied professionally. It wasn’t until last year that these two seemed to get their mojo back… and, surprisingly, they’re working together again.

Sci-fi isn’t just sci-fi because of the characters, though. There are both thematic and aesthetic tendencies associated with the genre, and Crazy men can also raise your hand here. On a thematic level, the best science fiction uses distant worlds to discuss topical issues of today. Watching Crazy men can serve as a modern crash course on family, women’s issues (be it dating, family, the workplace), race, sexuality, media consumption and more. And while it’s easy to say that this idea applies to any period piece – traditionally it’s a show type looking at a different time frame to show how little things have really changed –Crazy men has taken artistic liberties within his period and has stretched into the hyperreal. To name just a few examples, an unrelenting woman magically reappears in Draper’s room and he kills her by hand. Roger Sterling’s then-wife looks like one Star Trek seductress as they talk about the 1919 World Series in a bathtub (after his hair was alternately colored in a mirror). A scene later, a dead man is seen singing and dancing. It’s not life on Mars, but Crazy men New York’s version is often another planet.

On top of it all, perhaps the most compelling case for it Crazy men since science fiction has nothing to do with what’s on the screen and everything to do with what’s next to it. Series creator Matthew Weiner is an on-the-record, self-professed sci-fi nerd. There’s a reason this year’s episode was named The Monolith and the first shot of that episode is identical (see the 20 minute marker of this thread) to an iconic frame from 2001: a space Odyssey. Or when Kinsey’s Star Trek script is brought to TV man Harry Crane, Crane sidesteps it by commenting on the show’s horrible time slot and unproven audience. Weiner knows his science fiction.

“There are certain times when I focus on things. The number of UFO sightings in New York City from 1959 to 1970 is staggering,” Weiner told TV writer extraordinaire Alan Sepinwall. “Science fiction starts in the 1950s and is always seen as a Cold War phenomenon, but it really blossoms and reaches mass culture – look at Star Trek getting on national TV – mid 60’s. It’s something we discovered that was everywhere. And it was a way for people to talk about very profound things.”

Another fact that Weiner has never shied away from – he agrees. When Crazy men started in 2007 and Matthew Weiner was still press friendly, he had to Actually discuss his show And make meaningful comments about it. One of the first ideas Weiner emphasized again and again in the press was how he saw his show. It came up in a conversation with critic Bernie Heidkemp of, as Heidkemp wrote:

Matt Weiner describes his new show, Crazy men (Thursdays on AMC), as “science fiction” – but in the past. What he means is that, just as science fiction often uses a future world to say things about the present that you can’t directly say (it’s both figuratively and literally ahead of its time), his show uses the overtly sexist and racist vibe of a 1960s New York ad agency to talk about issues that still exist today, but about which we are too “polite” (to use the words of Alan Taylor, one of the show’s directors) to talk about openly.

To say this strategy is brilliant is an understatement.

If a show can look like sci-fi, act like sci-fi, and talk (about itself as) sci-fi, don’t let the amount of well-tailored suits put you off. Crazy men has more in common with the Battle stars of the world than it will ever be with those other historical pieces.

By akfire1

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