Ever since Mad Men debuted on AMC in 2007, the 1960s has been as integral a part of the show as John Hamm's shadowy and conflicted Don Draper. Both because the characters react to what would've been happening in the real world at the time as well as the embrace of the style and swagger of the early '60s — when cocktail hour was as important to business as having a good steno pool. These elements have helped to define the series' look and feel.
Mad Men does perhaps as good a job as any show ever in recreating a very specific period in American history, delving into storylines that don’t try to shy away from the social norms of New York during that time, which would include a lot of smoking and drinking to go along with institutional sexism and racism. The show also impeccably recreates the '60s fashion trends, lending an air of authenticity to what we're watching. (The writers occasionally slip with business phrases that are more '80s than '60s, but why quibble?)
Because it was such a defining decade in the history of the country, the '60s have been used as a backdrop for any number of series over the years. The Playboy Club and Pan Am both tried unsuccessfully to match the feel of Mad Men, and both suffered in comparison lasting for just a season each. So, what other shows besides Mad Men have done a good job of capturing the era of Vietnam, Kennedy, and the Beatles?
The drama set at a Vietnam military medical way-station earned a Best Drama Golden Globe and Emmys for acting for Dana Delany and Marg Helgenberger. While another series at roughly the same time — Tour of Duty — was covering the combat aspect of the Vietnam War, China Beach excelled at showing the human side of the war, as characters mourned those that were lost and reacted to news that they received from back in the States. The show attempted to comment on how the war affected more than just the people fighting it, and even occasionally showed real interviews with people who had been at the real China Beach.
The Wonder Years
There might have been no greater change during the '60s than the dynamic within suburban families, and The Wonder Years showcased that. While at heart it was just a family sitcom with panache for melodrama, it did a wonderful job of both showing the frustration of the parents over the changing times and the confusion mixed with optimism of the children. Fred Savage's Kevin dealt with normal early teen issues, but one of his friends (Danica McKellar's Winnie) had a brother who was killed in Vietnam, and his sister (Olivia d'Abo) was more interested in protesting the war than in listening to their parents. The show moved into the '70s as it went along, but the first couple of seasons showed a slice of '60s suburbia that no one else has quite captured before or since.
Laverne and Shirley/Happy Days
Both sitcoms began in the late '50s before migrating into the '60s (Happy Days by the sixth season and Laverne and Shirley by its third… although, really, each frequently had trouble deciding which decade they were in at any given time). Garry Marshall's pair of sitcoms never pretended to be an actual historical representation of the times that they were set in, but both managed to capture the vibe that American Graffiti —set in 1962 — had previously… namely in the optimism of young adults at the beginning of Kennedy's America. Neither show was trying to do much more than make people laugh, but thanks to the music that was employed throughout the runs of both shows they each managed to do it just the same. Of course, if you want us to try and explain why Scott Baio's Chachi had a very '70s blown-dried and feathered haircut for much of Happy Days' '60s years… well, you've got us there.
Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
Veteran comedian and late-night pioneer Steve Allen died Monday evening at his son Bill's Encino, Calif., home of an apparent heart attack. Allen was 78. The comedian was at his son's home to visit his grandchildren when he passed away in his sleep soon after having dinner.
"He said he was a little tired after dinner,'' Bill Allen said. "He went to relax, peacefully, and never reawakened."
Allen is best known for creating and hosting the first incarnation of "The Tonight Show" in 1953 as well as starring in "The Steve Allen Show" in 1956 on NBC.
As the first host for "Tonight," Allen would typically start the show by playing the piano, usually his own compositions, then walk over to the desk and interview some of Hollywood's biggest stars of the day. He also took part in the show's many skits, including his "Man on the Street Interview" featuring new comics Don Knotts, Tom Poston, Bill Dana and Pat Harrington.
Allen left the show he created in 1956, and after a failed change in format by the network, "Tonight" resumed with Jack Paar, then later with Johnny Carson in 1962.
"Steve Allen's death saddens me greatly," Carson said in a statement released to the press. "All of us who have hosted 'The Tonight Show' format owe a debt of gratitude to Steve Allen. He was a most creative innovator and brilliant entertainer."
Allen's quick wit and musical talent opened many doors for him in Hollywood. There was virtually no area of entertainment left untouched by Allen. He composed thousands of songs, recorded 40 albums and wrote 40 books. Allen also starred in Broadway shows, soap operas, sat in as a commentator for wrestling match broadcasts and wrote for plays and TV series.
His years of hard work in TV paid off on a professionally level when he was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1986. He also won a Grammy for "Gravy Waltz" and wrote the score for the 1968 film "A Man Called Dagger."
Comedy came easy to Allen. His parents, Billy Allen and Belle Montrose, were vaudeville comedians and toured with Allen when he was young. His father died when Allen was 18 months old, but his mother continued her touring scheduled as a single act with Allen in tow.
Allen later studied journalism in college but dropped out to work as a disc jockey and entertainer at a Phoenix radio station. He was drafted into the Army in 1943 but later discharged because of asthma. He returned to his Phoenix radio station and married his college sweetheart, Dorothy Goodman. Together they had three sons, Steve Jr., David and Brian. The couple divorced, however, in 1952.
Allen made the move to Los Angeles when he was offered to host a midnight radio show on KNX. The show won Allen the attention of CBS execs, whom expanded the show nationally. When the networks were moving into television, Allen was then invited to New York for ``The Steve Allen Show,'' which appeared five evenings a week on CBS.
Allen was married to actress Jayne Meadows for 46 years. They had one son, Bill. Allen's former publicist and close family friend of 40 years, Dale C. Olson, described the comedian as "the quintessential man."
"He never said no to any charitable cause I or anyone was ever involved with," Olson said. "I can think of no other public figure who best holds the mantle of the quintessential man and no other public figure who has given of himself more for the betterment of mankind. Steve Allen was always the first one to volunteer his services for a human cause. He will be sorely missed."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.