Forum des Images’s ‘Series Mania’ event from the 10th – 17th April included projections in cinemas of the latest American, British and French TV series and several round table sessions hosted by experts where the public could discuss the themes, characters and cinematography of the various series. I use the word ‘cinematography’ because this really was at the heart of every debate throughout the week; can we still distinguish between a television series and a film, and is the predominantly lower status given to television series finally shifting?
I attended the ‘Mad Men’ round table session hosted by Marjolaine Boutet with Sarah Hatchuel, Ariane Hudelet-Dubreil and Monica Michlin, all university professors whose specialisations varied but who all had something to contribute to the analysis of series 1 – 3 of the hit US series created by Matthew Weiner. Marjolaine Boutet began the debate by describing how analysing a TV series is no different to that of a film; television series gives us a certain representation of society at the time, they sometimes chronicle historical movements, and they often tackle the same grand themes of human existence just like films. What Marjolaine Boutet did make a point of highlighting though was that our immediate reaction to ‘Mad Men’ is to see it as an accurate reflection of the 1960s, and while it is true that the creators go to great lengths to maintain the style of the era, it is definitely a 21st century series.
The debate centred mostly around one particular episode of ‘Mad Men’, series 3 episode 12 ‘The Grown Ups’. No clues in the title, a fairly inconspicuous start, but within 14 minutes we finally realise that a monumental event of 1962 is finally going to be given the ‘Mad Men’ treatment; the assassination of JFK. The 4 experts deftly explained the episode from start to finish, revealing how the series not only shows a huge shift in political history, but also in the relationships of the principle characters. Ariane Hudelet -Dubreil also alluded to earlier clues in the series which show how Weiner was carefully leading up to the event, but in a very subtle way. (I’m a huge Mad Men enthusiast and I had no idea what was coming!)
In the end the round table event covered historical references, race relations, the women’s movement, the ad industry and the role of the father all referred to in this one episode of ‘Mad Men’. That a 45 minute episode can pack in so much is pretty impressive, and the series really does stand up to serious theoretical and critical analysis just like any film. And this is the central point to Series Mania, famous film directors are making tv series (such as Scorsese for ‘Boardwalk Empire’) and writers (like Aaron Sorkin) are switching happily between the two with huge success. So can we really dismiss television as a lesser creation than cinema? From Twin Peaks to Fringe to 6 Feet Under and The Wire, the quality of television series is constantly evolving and improving, which means great things in the future for TV addicts, and hopefully more chances to see them projected on the big screen.