Wednesday, 20 October 2010

The Problem With Joan Harris

Disclosure: At present I'm in the middle of watching series 4 of Mad Men on BBC4. I'm behind America and anyone who has been watching on torrents by quite a way.

Since I first heard about the drama series Mad Men (BBC4 if you're in the UK, AMC if you're in America) I have consistently heard one character mentioned above all others. Whether she's referred to by name, hair colour, her job, or - most likely - her figure, you'll probably know who I'm speaking about. The curvy one, the office manager, the redhead, Joan.

Call me odd, but she doesn't do anything for me. Now this isn't anything against Christina Hendricks, the actress who plays her. The appeal, or lack of it, comes from the character herself. Joan is sure of herself. She gets what she wants. She is determined, forthright, rarely smiles, bitchy to people who she either doesn't like and who she doesn't have time for. She knows she's popular, and has that cocky, hip-shaking swagger that goes along with it. Furthermore she doesn't look as if she would be easy to get along with. In other words, she's the kind of girl who used to make my life a misery at school.

Is Joan without appeal? No, and she's certainly a character who plays her part in the rich tapestry of the show (as her brief absence in the latter half of series 3 showed), but in my mind this has been shown when the outer veneer has been removed and what lies beneath the surface is shown in greater detail. There are several examples of this, the most notable being:
  • Her exit from Sterling Cooper in a flood of tears when her idyllic future was seemingly falling apart in series 3.
  • Her frustration at being separated from her husband at the start of series 4 (N.B. Bonus points to Mad Men for not showing him to be a complete scumbag in this episode as it would have been so easy to do - lots of shades of grey in this programme that I love).
  • Her genuine distress as Roger Sterling's two heart attacks in series 1.
Nasty, not smiling, robot Joan, not attractive. Not to me anyway, sorry for not being conventional.

And I know I advocate Betty "I didn't even cry when my father died" as a more attractive reason for watching this programme. I can't explain that. Sue me (unless you live somewhere where you can actually sue me, in which case I'd prefer that you didn't).