Thomas Sutcliffe: Sexist, racist – and absolutely brilliant

Share
Related Topics

Fifty years ago it was cowboys that stood tall in American television. Three out of five Emmy nominations for Best Dramatic Series were cowboy shows and virtually all the top rated series at the time were westerns. These days, if the latest Emmy nominations are any guide, office politics is the new frontier. With Mad Men picking up 16 nominations, 30 Rock scooping 17 and Damages and the American version of The Office also in the running for America's top broadcasting awards, the definition of watercooler television increasingly describes programmes for which the props department have to go out and find a watercooler.

Not that it will necessarily contain water of course. Mad Men included one memorable episode in which it was topped up with neat crème de menthe, the climax to one of the politically incorrect fiestas of smoking, drinking and sexual harassment that made this account of a Sixties advertising agency so distinctive.

No contemporary drama could have risked its sexism, homophobia or casual anti-Semitism, but, safely insulated by a brilliant sense of period design, from the Saul Bass-style titles to the men's sharkskin suits, Mad Men allowed audiences to relish how far they'd come, while feeling a whisper of nostalgia for the unraised consciousnesses they'd left behind.

30 Rock, overlooked and underpraised when Five broadcast it here, put a woman in the driving seat and then tortured her with a boss almost as unreconstructed as the stagging executives of Mad Men.

Tina Fey's performance as the head writer on a weekly comedy show was good, but it was her scenes with Alec Baldwin – a running duel between creativity and the profit-motive – that really lifted the show and marked it out from a string of media-based shows.

Damages, meanwhile, earns its place not by merit of writing or performance or direction – but for the skill with which the first episode lodged a narrative hook so deeply that it was all but impossible to shake it out before the final episode – and for Glenn Close's depiction of a boss so lethally untrustworthy that virtually any employer looks good by contrast.

What's missing though, as it has been from virtually all previous nomination lists, is one of the best office politics dramas of all, The Wire.

Perhaps it's because the Emmy voters can't see that a Baltimore drug corner or the front seat of a police cruiser are subject to the same dynamics of ambition and seething, wage-slave humiliation as any cubicle farm. But if Mad Men and 30 Rock deserve their Emmy lottery tickets, the Emmys themselves are less deserving for having once again overlooked a show that's better than both of them.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Yvette Cooper campaigning in London at the launch of Labour’s women’s manifesto  

I want the Labour Party to lead a revolution in family support

Yvette Cooper
Liz Kendall  

Labour leadership contest: 'Moderniser' is just a vague and overused label

Steve Richards
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine