Recently, I’ve noticed a disparity between films I love and films that receive critical and audience acclaim or which do well at the box office. What brought this to my attention was that the past several movies I’ve seen in theaters have been with my good friend, and we seem to have a disconnect about what movies are great and what are not.
We saw Bellflower, a quite good indie drama that I thought was fantastically-made if perhaps not specifically “enjoyable” (it had infrequent bits of humor amidst very dark storylines). My friend thought it was “an hour too long” and annoying. We saw Transformers 3, which he thought was “pretty good” or “okay” and I thought had two or three mildly amusing jokes amidst two-and-a-half hours of boring and not-very-well-done action. The only interesting parts of that movie, I thought, were the scenes of melodrama in the first 15-20 minutes when Sam is trying to find and keep a regular job after having saved the world twice.
We watched The Hitmen Diaries, which I believe my friend enjoyed, and which made me depressed at the state of humanity.
And finally, we watched 30 Minutes or Less, which I absolutely loved and which my friend called “a s..tty film.”
30 Minutes hit a low 44% on RottenTomatoes’ critic meter, but scored 68% audience rating, which is 12% higher than Cowboys & Aliens. I told my friend as we left the theater that “the entire theater was laughing the whole time” and that while the film was certain to earn low box office and be slammed by critics as it already had been, I was certain that many of the people who saw it would love it. The exceptions, of course, are those who went to “see how bad it is” or for other reasons.
And now comes Mad Men, proof of my theory that an audience will out. Mad Men began airing on AMC in 2007; it has an IMDb user rating of 9.0/10. The show took off immediately and has won 13 Emmy awards, 4 Golden Globes and 2 BAFTA awards, with literally dozens more nominations over just four years.
And then came Netflix Instant – the great democratizer. Netflix recently acquired the streaming rights for Mad Men, making it available to millions of people who had never gone out of their way to watch it before, but now that it’s free and they’re bored, why not?
Let me be clear and upfront: I hate this. Netflix has taken a show that was viewed and appreciated and loved by a select group of people who had actually sought it out to watch. I started watching after the first two seasons were released on DVD. I’ve now seen all 4 seasons.
So it really irritates me that now that everyone can watch Mad Men, all I see on Twitter and Facebook is “Wow, I really don’t like Mad Men. Don Draper is such an a**hole!” People who don’t “get” the show are now watching it on Netflix Instant and then going to Facebook and Twitter to complain about it.
The show earns critical and audience acclaim within its select audience, but when it’s opened up to people who don’t appreciate the style of the series, it becomes open season on Don Draper. The fact is, the show found its audience. It had it and it earned it and it conquered it. Even though Season 4 was the worst of the show, when they return for Season 5 in 2012, I’ll be sitting here in my recliner staring at the screen like a… ahem… mad man.
And I’ll probably see 30 Minutes or Less again the week it releases on DVD.