You have to think it was a little bit daring when the concept for Robin Williams’ new TV series was first put on the CBS executive table. “The Crazy Ones” couldn’t be a more perfect title for a show starring a comedian known for going off script 90% of the time in “Mork and Mindy” 35 years ago. It was also crazy to create a network show about an ad agency when “Mad Men” seems to provide every possible insight to an industry that abstractly hasn’t changed. Or is the point of the new Williams series supposed to provide answers to what happens after the “Mad Men” era ends?
There’s already a bit of a surreal quality to the show when you consider that actor James Wolk who plays Bob Benson on “Mad Men” also plays a copywriter on “The Crazy Ones.” And, yes, it has to be more than coincidence that he still looks like Bob Benson, except with 2013 clothing on. Creator David E. Kelley probably couldn’t have helped looking at “Mad Men” and showing the ironic parallels between then and now. But because it’s Kelley, we’re bound to find some insights into what’s really changed and what hasn’t.
The most noticeable change is the woman’s role in the advertising industry. In “The Crazy Ones”, we see proof that women have strong careers in that business, even if they have to take a back seat to a superior patriarchal executive. Sarah Michelle Gellar has to play the foiled daughter to Robin Williams’s Simon Roberts character. We expect she’ll be the executive in the company eventually once Roberts gives up his chair. Regardless, the other change Kelley seems to be telling us is a surprising one: There seemed to be more business musical chairs being played in the “Mad Men” universe than there is in “The Crazy Ones” (at least so far).
You also have another interesting change in the executive male: The B.S. that hotshot ad executives exhibited in days of yore is seen right through now. Evidence of that was seen in the pilot to “The Crazy Ones” where Simon Roberts has to charm the executive board that’s about ready to bump him out. Finally, he wins them over with a McDonald’s ad idea, though it’s a far cry from the overly confident Don Draper role. In today’s time, Don Draper’s overly slick ad campaigns might go down wrong with corporate heads.
Plus, don’t forget that Simon Roberts appears to be no womanizer in the Don Draper mold. Roberts has been run through the ringer of rehab more than once and seems to be the circumstance behind the Don Draper lifestyle.
And then there’s the glaring lack of ethnic diversity in the agency of Lewis, Roberts & Roberts. With “Mad Men” presenting the idea that diversity with African-Americans in their industry was right around the page turn of the 1960s, there isn’t a single African-American (or other ethnic) person seen in this modern agency. Whether it’s just coincidence or a David E. Kelley statement on how things are being shaped now, is still a mystery.
If “The Crazy Ones” takes off, then it’s going to be interesting seeing two different timelines play within an advertising industry setting. By the spring of 2014, “Mad Men” and “The Crazy Ones” will be on the air simultaneously. The only thing that could make the latter CBS series better is if Kelley links up with Matthew Weiner after “Mad Men” ends and shows some kind of clever direct line to the AMC series. Does it even have to be said that Wolk’s Zach Cropper character should find out he’s a direct relation to mysterious Bob Benson?
If Kelley’s series goes that route at least once, you can’t help but think that Simon Roberts is a distant cousin of Don Draper. If the “Mad Men” finale doesn’t reveal where the characters are 40+ years later, we could certainly find out through the crazy prism of “The Crazy Ones.”