Two of my greatest loves left me last week. The two men in question share a few traits: both wore bespoke suits, had a biting wit, and were intensely private men. But that’s where the similarities end.
Oh wait, both were on television.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re aware that Mad Men and the Late Show with David Letterman ended last week. Both shows changed television: Letterman’s post-modern mix of celebrity mockery and everyman glorification defines our current sense of comedy (as well as paving the way for reality television) while Mad Men was one of a handful of beautifully crafted “adult” dramas that helped rescue television from the perverted reality cesspool it had devolved into.
The protagonists of both shows were charismatic and singular. In watching all the old clips of Letterman that resurfaced in retrospective of his 33-year late night career (and preceding 10 as a weatherman and morning show host), it’s worth noting how defined his on-stage persona was, right from the start.
Letterman had a goofiness which, according to online tributes and certain recipe columnists, appealed to younger audiences. My Mom would let me stay up after Johnny Carson just to see what Dave would do: even something as pointless as dropping cans of paint from his studio roof was hilarious to a kid. As an adult, I came to appreciate his interviewing skills, abrasive insight and unique worldview (YouTube “Letterman ‘don’t blame Conan’,” or “Letterman 9/11 monologue” for two of his finer monologues).
Then there’s Don Draper. Few men, fictional or otherwise, look so good in a suit. It’s shocking how much that counts in rationalizing his womanizing, alcoholic, absentee-father ways, but the ladies know what I’m talking about. Draper was forever at odds with his personal life, but his professional capabilities outshone his shortcomings.
That description of Draper alone proves there was nothing childish about Mad Men. From its plodding pace to its meticulous 1960s settings — not to mention its very mature plotlines — it was very “adults only.” So it’s not strange I began watching it soon after Charlotte was born. After hearing the hype for years, I binge-watched four seasons in three weeks. Damn that handsome Draper!
There’s another similarity between Dave and Don: both made me wait for their departure. Their departure dates were known well in advance, but in these days of on-demand television, we had to agonizingly wait for their farewells within a regular broadcast schedule. Both men slowly exacted their pain: weeks of tributes for Dave, and a final season split in two by an entire calendar year for Don to either find inner peace or create the world’s most beloved ad campaign (the show’s subtlety may not be missed).
At the end of their respective runs, both Dave and Don were past their prime. Dave’s progeny eclipsed him in viewership and online hits, while Don’s perfectly cut suits and slick hair literally didn’t gel with the hippies. Both shows suffered from declining viewership which only increased once the end was nigh. I admit that it’s been more than a few years since I’ve religiously watched Dave, but by the same token, I was amazed by how many of those old, and not-so-old, clips I recognized from long after my bedtime moved earlier.
But Dave and Don’s influence will long be felt. Both shows changed the pop culture landscape in terms of content and medium, thanks in part to their dashing leading men. But they didn’t just break ground in television — they’re also breaking my heart with their departure from it.
Last week, I briefly spoke about barbecues: I’m a bit of a fraud because I don’t actually have one. But the purchase of an eighth of a locally raised cow is going to change this situation shortly. In the interim, this is how I’m making my “Buddy” burgers.
(adapted from cooking.nytimes.com)
½ tsp. neutral oil, like canola, or a pat of unsalted butter
2 lb. ground chuck, at least 20 per cent fat
Salt and black pepper to taste
4 hamburger buns
Condiments of choice
Add oil or butter to a large cast-iron or stainless-steel skillet and place over medium heat. Gently divide ground beef into four small piles of around 8 ounces each, and then lightly form into patties around 3 1/2 inches in diameter. Season aggressively with salt and pepper.
Increase heat to high. Put hamburgers into skillet with plenty of distance between them and cook, without moving, for approximately 3 minutes. Use a spatula to flip hamburgers. If using cheese, lay slices on meat.
Cook until meat is cooked through, approximately another 3-4 minutes for medium-rare. Remove hamburgers from skillet and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Place hamburgers on buns and top as desired.