“Rubicon”: Better than “Mad Men” — so far

I sort of vaguely griped about the season opener of “Mad Men,” and I don’t seem to be alone in feeling a certain ennui regarding the doings of Don Draper et al. (although I agree the recent episode centered on the admirable Joan was an improvement).

But just to show that I don’t just gripe and criticize… the new AMC original series that runs right before it, “Rubicon,” is thus far excellent.

I still don’t know why it’s called “Rubicon” — who or what has crossed a line that means there is no going back? — but so far it invites comparison to the very best British dramas one finds on PBS (not just in terms of content, but the direction and cinematography; it just LOOKS and FEELS like one of those shows). It’s not quite up to the standard — yet — of the greatest spy drama ever shown on the telly, the BBC’s “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” but it’s very good (perhaps comparable to “Game, Set and Match“). And unlike with “Mad Men,” the characters don’t repel you; you can actually CARE what happens to them.

I was reminded to say something about “Rubicon” by my good friend Jim Foster, who wrote me earlier this week praising it. To which I responded:

I’ve watched the first two, and taped the third last night (I had to reach way back in my memory to recall how to tape anything, but I did it).
Way better than Mad Men so far.
Although I have problems. For one, let me ask you as a former newspaper features editor: How credible do you find it that a spy agency would be ABLE to coordinate messages in several different newspapers’ crossword puzzles? I mean, really? Hell, if you were the executive editor, you wouldn’t be able to coordinate it in your OWN paper…
Second: I find it incredible that this desk man walks the streets alert to surveillance and such, in his own home city. No way. A field agent in Moscow, or Beijing, or Tehran, mayBE — but a desk man walking home from work in the States? I don’t think so…

Jim answered that while a desk man’s tradecraft would be sloppy, he didn’t find it that incredible that he spotted a tail — especially when the follower was clumsy himself. As for my other point, he said, “I agree with you about the crossword puzzles but am willing to suspend my disbelief on that, just because it’s fun.” As the former editor who among many other things was responsible for the crosswords in The State, Jim knows the mechanisms involved in that process, and therefore how incredible this plot device is. But point taken; I’ll suspend my disbelief.

The whole thing’s good enough that it makes me rethink not wanting to see “Breaking Bad,” even though I’ve always found the premise and promotion so off-putting. AMC is developing quite a reputation for quality. Although I’d hate to see them give up showing classic movies, since that’s probably the main thing for which I have cable.

7 thoughts on ““Rubicon”: Better than “Mad Men” — so far

  1. Kathryn Fenner

    Well, they have Miranda Richardson. I gather from the second promo, the guy who played the judge in The Wire died in the first episode.

    The clothes are pants, as the Brits say. Hardly any women. Of course you guys love a spy thriller, and of course it’s going to be more “gripping.”

    I put it in my Netflix queue.

  2. Kathryn Fenner

    Yeah, Miranda Richardson and the woman in the gray turtleneck—no Joanie, Betty, Peggy, Trudy, dresses!!!

  3. Brad

    Not just guys. There’s that lovely lass who displays décolletage in the workplace and constantly begs Will to go out with her. And she’s a spy to the nth degree, since we have learned that part of her job is to spy on her colleagues for the higher-ups.

    So there.

  4. Brad

    Yes, I noticed that, too. It adds to the le Carre feel of it — more like his Circus of the Z0s than the River House of his later books. One imagines that Bill Hayden is about to walk in, carefully balancing a saucer atop a full teacup…

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