Series 6 “Mad Men”, Drugs and a Rare High.

Twin Peaks' dream sequence.

Twin Peaks’ dream sequence.

In retrospect, the arrival of Twin Peaks onto our screens in 1990 changed everything. On the one hand it exploded the possibilities of what a television series could aim for and encompass. And on the other, it marked the beginning of what would become a complete exodus of serious, grown-up populist drama from cinema onto television.

The exquisite At The Height Of Summer.

The exquisite At The Height Of Summer.

You can still see serious drama in the cinema. Films from Atom Egoyan, Asghar Farhadi reviewed earlier here, Julio Medem, Jafar Panahi reviewed earlier here, Lynne Ramsay, Tod Solondz, and Tran Anh Hung. And of course David Lynch. But they are very much the exceptions. The vast majority of what is on offer these days at the cinema is aimed at teenage boys and pubescent girls.

Television on the other hand has produced, to pick but four of a long, long list, The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men and Breaking Bad. And it all began with Twin Peaks, which was the precedent, the blueprint, and the inspiration for them all.

Of the many, many things that Twin Peaks did so effortlessly well, the one thing that most people probably think of is dreams. Specifically, the dream sequence that so memorably ended the second episode.

Lynch got his actors to memorize and say their lines backwards, which he filmed, and then reversed in the editing suite. Similarly, he got them to perform some of their actions – but crucially not all of them – in the same way. It’s dazzlingly unsettling, and you can see it again here.

Lynch has always had a sensational handle on dreams. David Thompson astutely writes in his entry on Mulholland Dr. that the Dr of the title refers not to Drive but to dream here. It’s striking how often dream crops up in the dialogue. And his career began of course with the all too convincing portrayal of a living nightmare in Eraserhead.

So intimidated was David Chase by Lynch and his facility with dreams that he was rendered creatively petrified. Dreams are the one thing that The Sopranos failed to dazzle on.

If Chase is the televisual son of Lynch, then Matthew Weiner is his spiritual grandchild. But Mad Men has mostly avoided dreams. What it’s done instead is to tackle the one area that’s even more difficult to get right than dreams; drugs.

Mad Men.

Mad Men.

After all, at least in theory, anything’s possible in dreams. But for anyone who’s ever taken opiates, amphetamines or hallucinogenics, there’s only ever one way that that looks or feels. And it’s cringe-inducing to watch whenever anyone tries and gets it wrong.

Impressively, on the few occasions that drugs have surfaced in Mad Men, they’ve got it brilliantly right. There was that brief scene in series 2 when Don had his – and the show’s – first joint. There’s was the justly celebrated scene in series 5 when Roger does LSD here.

And now in series 6, there’s a whole episode, 8 The Crash, when a Dr. Roberts type figure gives Don and the rest on the creative team a shot each of speed. I’ll not spoil anything by giving any of it away, but it captures perfectly that misplaced sense of certainty that some drugs cause you to fix on otherwise meaningless ephemera. And it’s absolutely, and horribly hilarious.

Series 6 is currently hidden away in the depths of RTE2’s  Tuesday night schedule, like a former hippies’ final acid tab buried deep in a secret draw.

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Spiritualized’s “Sweet Heart Sweet Light” Soars.

Jason Pearce formed Spiritualized in 1990, but it was their third album that sent their rock ‘n’ roll stock soaring into the stratosphere in 1997. Ladies And Gentlemen, We Are Floating In Space seemed to flatly contradict everything we’d been told about what happens when you live a life of heedless hedonism.

Pearce seemed to be spending his every waking hour imbibing and ingesting anything and everything he could get his hands on. The result, shockingly, was an album of majestic cohesion and soaring, unforgiving grace.

As ever though, the Gods had merely been toying with him. After two decidedly underwhelming follow-up albums, in 2005 he was felled with a particularly virulent case of pneumonia. He very nearly died and was hospitalized for the guts of a year. The next album Songs In A&E had, unsurprisingly, something of a tentative feel to it.

But a year later in ’09 he started touring Ladies And Gentlemen in its entirety, as was the fashion of the day. And the experience seems to have rejuvenated him. The result is this, their 7th studio album.

Once again Pearce has defied the odds by producing an impressively coherent album, despite being felled yet again by serous illness. This time it was his liver, and the cocktail of, irony of ironies, drugs he was prescribed meant that it took him eight months to finish mixing it. Hence the subtitle, Huh? which he explains here on Pitchfork, and the boys from Pravda gave it an impressed 8.8 here.

Sweet Heart Sweet Light is both a crystallization and a summation of everything he and Spiritualized have been working on to date. It has everything they do best, and some of the best examples of what they do.

From the opening track proper, the even-more-Reed-than-Reed Hey Jane (more V U returned with thanks) to the Dr John collaboration, I Am What I Am, which is what David Chase would have used for The Sopranos if they’d been making it today. And the whole thing is given sonic depth and poise by the Icelandic string quartet Amiina, long-time collaborators with compatriots Sigur Ros.

Unsurprisingly, it has slightly less of the grandeur that Ladies And Gentlemen boasts. And instead of the defiance and triumphant despair of the former, you’re being gently invited in here to break bread and perchance for a sup of wine.

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